Hungarian Minorities In Central-Europe Essay, Research Paper
Since the 17th and 18th centuries, the Carpathian Basin has become one of the most diverse and conflict-ridden macroregions of Europe from both an ethnic and religious perspective. After the fall of the communism the newly emerged democratic states had to face the problem of the minorities. National minorities reacted in a self-defensive way, by reorganising and establishing their cultural and political organisations and parties. This established the core for both ethnic tensions and inter-state conflicts. In the Carpathian-Basin one of the largest minority is Hungarian. The Hungarian minorities appeared in East-Central Europe with one sudden blow. The Peace Treaty of Trianon (1920) caused more then two-third of the Hungarian nation to live in a minority as foreigners. Today there is an estimated 14 million ethnic Hungarians living in the Carpathian-Basin, about 3 million live outside the present borders (after 1920 June 4) of Hungary. This minority situation of the Hungarians arose partly due to economic backwardness of the country in the late 19th century, but in much greater measure the above mentioned peace treaty of Trianon. By the mid 19th century the Hungarian Empire included the entire Czechoslovakia, Serb-Croat Kingdom, a large part of Poland and Romania. After the conciliation/compromise of 1867 these nations together with Austria formed the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It has to be said that the ethnic Hungarians were hardly a majority in this new empire, in the year 1910 only 54% of the empires population was Hungarian. 1914 is the year when the most influential War of our history broke out. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, slightly influenced by the German government, entered the war as an axis power. In four years the axis powers lost the First World War. The treaty of Trianon executed the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the First World War in 1920. As a result of unfair and unnegotiable peace talks , Hungary lost 72 % of its territory and almost 60% of its population. The Treaty was enforced on Hungary as any sort of communication or negotiation between the allies, however the Hungarians were excluded from taking part of the negotiations estabilishing in Trianon. As a result new countries emerged from the Empire, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania were the countries containing most of the ethnic Hungarian groups. This decision of Trianon was and still is a source of national sorrow for Hungarians. This sorrow was only strengthened by the ignorant communist era. For most of the Communist period, the Hungarian government did not raise the minority issue with its socialist neighbours. The issue started to get publicity at the very end of the 70 s; these mainly statistical articles clearly showed the oppression of Hungarians living outside Hungary. Them, during the 80 s as the Ceausescu regime in Romania, further limited the human rights and citizen-rights of the minorities, the Kadar government began to assert cautiously its rights to take an interest in ethnic Hungarians beyond its state borders. In this paper I will discuss the problems of Hungarian minorities in the Carpathian Basin, reflect on the policies on Hungarian minorities in Slovakia and Romania up untill 1997, furthermore I will try to come up with a possible solution or government policy for the Hungarian government. Despite the fact that there is significant Hungarian population in the neighbouring countries, I will not describe the position of Hungarian minorities in Austria, Serbia and The Ukraine, as the policy of these governments do not limit the rights of Hungarians to an extend that it disturbs the international experts on the field, nor the Government Office for Hungarian Minorities Abroad.1. The Case of SlovakiaIntroductionOn 1 January 1993, the ethnic Hungarian minority in Felvidek, as Hungarians call the area to the north of modern-day Hungary, suddenly found it had tripled in relative size. From comprising around 3.8 % of the population of Czechoslovakia, ethnic Hungarians became a minority of over 10 % in the newly-founded state of Slovakia. Almost all ethnic Hungarians in Czechoslovakia were concentrated in Slovakia, mainly in an east-west strip of territory along the Hungarian border. There are generally reckoned to be around 600,000 ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia; the 1991 census gives a total of 567,296 . Around 200,000 ethnic Hungarians were deported from Czechoslovakia in 1945, under the Benes Decrees which expelled suspected collaborators of the war-time Nazi regime on the basis of collective ethnic guilt. Some of those expelled are now trying to obtain a formal apology and compensation, although, as in the case of the far larger group of Sudeten Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia at the same time, they have so far had no success. Ethnic Hungarians in Communist Czechoslovakia had enjoyed some minority rights, particularly in education, where a system of Hungarian-language schools was maintained, and a cultural organization, Csehszlovakiai Magyarok Demokratikus Szovetsege (CSEMADOK – Democratic Federation of Czechoslovak Hungarians), allowed for a limited exchange of views. However, the advantages of post-Communist openness, which brought an immediate improvement in contacts with Hungarians outside Slovakia, and specifically in Hungary itself, did not translate into longer-term improvements in minority rights at home. This was principally due to an increase in Slovak nationalism, which with the coming of democracy had an equal chance to thrive, and the role of three times Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. For all but six months of its three-and-a-half years of independence, Slovakia has been governed by Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. He had first led a government in 1990, after elections contested by interest groups as much as formal political parties. At the June 1992 elections, which were shortly followed by the decision to divide Czechoslovakia, his Hnuti Za Democraticke Slovensko (HZDS – Movement For A Democratic Slovakia) won half of the seats in parliament. He remained in power until March 1994, when defections from his party cost him his majority. New elections were held in October 1994, after which he returned to the Prime Minister’s office as the head of a three-party coalition. Support for Prime Minister Meciar tends to come from older rural voters in the centre of Slovakia, and industrial workers at factories which have become uneconomic and would be likely to close down if rigorous free-market principles were applied. His policies have therefore been to slow down privatization and other economic changes. He has also staked his political reputation on the ideal of the new Slovak nation, with an ethnically Slovak definition. His two coalition partners reflect these two trends. Zdruzenie Robotnikov Slovenska (ZRS – The Association of Slovak Workers) is a hard-line socialist grouping, and Slovenska Narodna Strana (SNS – The Slovak National Party), whose leader Jan Slota is mayor of Zilina in central Slovakia, is an extreme-nationalist party, given to anti-Hungarian rhetoric. The fact that in 1993 Slovakia’s ethnic Hungarians became a far larger minority than they had been in Czechoslovakia made it easier for Slovak nationalists, who were by now in the ascendancy, to focus on them. Instead of gaining strength through relative numbers, the ethnic Hungarians simply became a much larger target.The Road to a Basic TreatyFollowing the elections of September 1994, Vladimir Meciar’s HZDS was once again the main political party, although with too few seats to form a government, even with support from the nationalist SNS. It was two months before the three-party coalition including the ZRS was formed, a period which only emphasised the low political status of the 17 ethnic Hungarian deputies. There are three ethnic Hungarian parties: Egyutteles (Coexistence), led by Miklos Duray; Magyar Keresztenydemokrata Mozgalom (MKM, Hungarian Christian-Democratic Movement), and Magyar Polgari Part (MPP, Hungarian Civic Party). Between them, they have slightly increased their share of the vote over the course of the three post-Communist elections in Slovakia, to just over 10 % in 1994, more or less exactly matching their percentage share of the total population. Duray not surprisingly committed his coalition to work in the opposition- it is in any case highly unlikely that Prime Minister Meciar would have worked with the ethnic Hungarians. At the same time, Slovak President Michal Kovac, a more moderate voice among the Slovak hierarchy who had sought to promote inter-ethnic dialogue at the time of the Komarno Declaration , gave a speech at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. He said that any collective interpretation of minority rights would unbalance the state, adding that Slovakia supported individual rights but expected loyal behaviour from members of the national minority. Michal Kovac had been a former Vladimir Meciar ally, and a member of HZDS before he was appointed to the presidency, but had become a political enemy since the HZDS dismissal from government in March 1994.Vladimir Meciar blamed President Kovac for his defeat at that time, arguing without firm evidence that the President had acted unconstitutionally and put pressure on other parties to remove HZDS from power. So from the ethnic Hungarian point of view, President Kovac might have been expected to provide a counter-balance to the government’s unsympathetic position on minority rights, but in Strasbourg he made it clear he would maintain the Slovak Government line. This was in essence the same line as that pursued in Romania, where the Government also maintained a policy of individual, rather than collective, rights. In December 1994, with a new Slovak Government in place, bi-lateral talks with Hungary resumed on the basic treaty. Apart from the minority issue, there was also the matter of the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros dam project on the River Danube, begun during the Communist era and then unilaterally abandoned by Hungary. The matter had been sent to the International Court of Justice at The Hague for arbitration, where a judgement is still pending, but the Slovaks still saw the dispute as a point of leverage in the treaty negotiations. Between January and March 1995, with an OSCE conference to sign a Stability Pact on good relations in Central and Eastern Europe scheduled for 21 March in Paris, there was almost no movement in the two sides’ positions on the treaty. In early March, the Hungarian side said there was no real willingness for agreement from the Slovaks. A week later, Slovak Prime Minister Meciar blamed the Hungarians, saying that Hungarian demands for local autonomy and their insistence on “giving more rights than is usual” to minorities were holding up the treaty. Finally, after a last-minute meeting between Prime Ministers Vladimir Meciar and Gyula Horn on 16 March 1995, the treaty was signed in Paris, just before the start of the OSCE conference. This was the same deadline that the Romanians and Hungarians failed to meet for their basic treaty. The Slovak-Hungarian treaty included provisions guaranteeing international borders, economic co-operation, new border crossings and the protection of minority rights. Both sides agreed to adhere to Council of Europe Recommendation 1201. Less than a week previously, Slovak Foreign Minister Juraj Schenk had said that collective rights and territorial autonomy should have no place in the treaty, but it now seemed as if Slovakia was agreeing to precisely these points, at least in theory. However, a series of remarks made immediately after the treaty was signed, served to show how theoretical its minority rights’ provisions were. Slovak Foreign Minister Schenk issued a statement the day after the signing, which said that the Slovak Government did not accept any formulation that acknowledged the collective rights of minorities. Ivan Gasparovic, the chairman of the Slovak Parliament and HZDS deputy, appeared to dismiss the treaty when he said it was in fact already implemented, because all individual rights were already enjoyed by the country’s minorities. This was echoed by Prime Minister Meciar himself, who said that there was nothing new in the basic treaty and its implementation would require no new measures. He described it as a “good piece of work for Slovakia”. And Jan Slota, leader of the extreme nationalist SNS, called the treaty premature and unacceptable and pointed out that it still had to be ratified by the Slovak parliament. The Hungarian parliament ratified the treaty within three months, on 11 June 1995, but it was to take the Slovaks over a year to do so. Meanwhile, Slovakia’s ethnic Hungarians were keen to take advantage as quickly as possible of the possibilities offered by the basic treaty. Egyutteles (Living Together) leader Miklos Duray soon issued a demand for the ethnic Hungarians to receive regional autonomy within a year. The Education and Language IssueUnder the 1990 (Czechoslovak) Law on the Official Language, minorities were guaranteed the right to use their own language for official business in towns and districts where they constituted more than 20 % of the population. This was less generous than the 10 % threshold proposed in the Komarno Declaration, but it was at least a legal principle to which the ethnic Hungarian community had been able to have recourse during earlier language disputes with the central authorities. However, in November 1995, Vladimir Meciar s government introduced a new draft Law on State Language. In August 1995, he had told Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn that there would be consultations on the issue with the Council of Europe before the law was introduced, to prove it was not aimed against the language rights of ethnic minorities, but there is no sign that this was done. The new law required all official business to be conducted in Slovak, without any explicit provision for minority languages. A separate law on minority language was promised in the future. The law would ban languages other than Slovak in public administration, on street signs and public name plates. Only wedding ceremonies were exempt. Fines of up to SK 1,000,000 (US$ 34,000) could be imposed on anyone breaking the law. Prime Minister Meciar said that this law would improve the chances of the still unratified Slovak-Hungarian treaty being passed by parliament, presumably because it would ally the fears of nationalist Slovak deputies. Culture Minister Ivan Hudec said that the law was concerned purely with language and had nothing to do with ethnic minorities. On 15 November 1995, the draft was passed into law, with only three non-ethnic-Hungarian deputies voting with the 17 ethnic Hungarian deputies against it, a reminder that very few ethnic Slovak deputies, however moderate in principle, would risk voting against the grain on nationalist issues. Hungary protested strongly against the new Law On State Language; Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs described his reaction as “sorrow and dissatisfaction”, pointing out that Slovakia had ignored Council of Europe recommendations in drafting the law. A week later, Hungary recalled its ambassador to Bratislava for consultations, saying that Slovakia had broken the terms of the treaty signed by Prime Ministers Horn and Meciar in March 1995 and the issue must be resolved. Six months later, the Hungarian Government had still not sent its ambassador back to Bratislava. Local Administrations IssueBoth Slovakia’s ethnic Hungarians and the Slovak Government have paid much attention in their various ways to the question of local government and territorial division. Local autonomy was after all the main goal identified by Egyutteles leader Miklos Duray after the signing of the Slovak-Hungarian basic treaty in March 1995. Ethnic Hungarian leaders wanted to create small local administrative units, based on the density of the ethnic Hungarian population in each region. This was stated in the Komarno Declaration. But the Slovak Government planned larger, north-south administrative regions, which would have the effect of breaking up the ethnic Hungarian areas along the southern border with Hungary and diluting their demographic density with the ethnic Slovak populations to the north. Eight new regions were planned – Kosice, Presov, Banska Bystrica, Zilina, Trencin, Bratislava, Trnava and Nitra – none of which would have an ethnic Hungarian majority. And, as MKM deputy Pal Csaky pointed out, the law would have implications for the electoral districts in future elections, which could reduce the number of ethnic Hungarian deputies. Instead, the ethnic Hungarian deputies proposed a system of 16 regions, retaining the present districts. In an interview, Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar claimed that the country had been divided in this way because each unit needed a population of at least 500,000 people to be “capable of an independent social life”. He said there would then be around 80 districts. The final law passed on 22 March 1996 divided Slovakia into eight regions and 79 districts. The voting was not as decisive as it had been for the Law On State Language, with 82 deputies voting in favour and 52 against. The law was due to be implemented on 1 July 1996, but it was delayed when President Kovac refused to ratify it, and returned it to parliament for further debate. This was not, according to the President, because of the concerns of ethnic Hungarians, but because Bratislava would lose financial support under the new division. Ratification?!While education, the language law and the administrative division of the country were being discussed in parliament, the Slovak-Hungarian basic treaty was still awaiting ratification. In August 1995, Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar said that October or November 1995 was a realistic date for ratification. After a meeting with his Hungarian counterpart, Gyula Horn, he said that the treaty already “had enormous weight”, adding that ratification was now an internal Slovak matter.
Following the passing of the Law On State Language in November 1995, Slovak Prime Minister Meciar was still optimistic about Slovak-Hungarian relations, despite Hungarian complaints about the new law, and talked of a political thaw and improved trade. Foreign Minister Juraj Schenk said that the process of treaty approval was still on course, but added that Hungarian reaction to the Law On State Language had created a negative atmosphere in the parliamentary committees discussing the treaty. Indeed, SNS deputies called for the ratification process to be halted. A parliamentary debate on the treaty, scheduled just before the Christmas recess, was postponed into the new year by a majority vote. The process dragged on through the winter, despite a pledge of support in January 1996 from SNS deputies. After a series of assurances from Slovak politicians that ratification was imminent, the treaty was finally passed by parliament on 26 March 1996, just over a year after it was first signed. All the ethnic Hungarian deputies abstained from the vote, which was otherwise virtually unanimous. However, there was an addition to the text of the treaty that had been signed by the two prime ministers in March 1995. These stated baldly that Slovakia did not recognise the principle of collective rights for minorities. At a stroke, this annulled the inclusion of Council of Europe Recommendation 1201 which had seemed such a positive step in Paris a year earlier. Hungary took the line that it was the original text of the treaty that had been ratified and that the riders had no value in international law. Budapest had a difficult choice between accepting a flawed ratification, or denouncing the amended treaty and starting negotiations again. Opposition parties called for resolute action and Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs sent a note of protest to Bratislava, saying that the treaty, now ratified, must be implemented in its full original version. Following a review by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Hungarian Parliament, the Foreign Ministry announced that it was inconceivable for the Slovak side to ratify the treaty with the addenda. It seems unlikely however that the Slovak side will review the treaty in the near future. By ratifying an amended treaty, Prime Minister Meciar has fulfilled an international obligation while simultaneously satisfying his domestic allies. A meeting in April 1996 between Csaba Tabajdi, in charge of the Office for National and Ethnic Minorities Abroad at the Hungarian Prime Minister’s Office, and ethnic Hungarian deputies from Slovakia, concluded that there was little prospect of the Language Law being amended, and that the basic treaty had even had a harmful effect on Slovakia’s policy towards its ethnic Hungarian minority. 1. The Case of RomaniaIntroductionIn Romania, several factors have combined to put ethnic Hungarians in an unusually disadvantageous position as a national minority. Firstly, the pre-1920 Hungarian borders included a large part of what is now Romania. This has made it easy for Romanian nationalist politicians to play on a fear of Hungarian irredentism, because, were the pre-1920 boundaries ever to be restored, Romania s current territory would be reduced by more than half. Secondly, because of the extent of former Hungarian lands now in Romania, the size of the ethnic Hungarian minority is considerable, usually reckoned at something approaching 2,000,000 . But rather than providing strength in numbers the size of the minority has tended to work against its members, as it has served to increase official Romanian suspicions. With such large minorities, successive Romanian governments have been doubly uncomfortable about the minorities issue.There were initial hopes that the overthrow of Ceausescu would improve minority relations in Romania. The Calvinist priest Laszlo Tokes, whose harassment by Securitate agents in the western Romanian city of Timisoara sparked the December 1989 events, was after all an ethnic Hungarian himself. But the election of post-Communist governments in both countries which were, to a greater or lesser extent, nationalist meant that minority issues came to be discussed at a bilateral level in a climate of mutual suspicion. The Magyar Demokrata Forum (MDF – Hungarian Democratic Forum) government of Joszef Antall in Hungary soon concluded that there was little essential change of position between the pre- and post-Ceausescu line on Romania’s ethnic Hungarians. The Romanians, for their part, continued to see Budapest politicians as the ones responsible for disturbing ethnic harmony within Romania. In August 1992, Antall said that he wished to be Prime Minister “emotionally as well as spiritually” for 15 million Hungarians, a figure that included the ethnic Hungarian populations in surrounding countries. This was not the first time that Antall had made such an assertion, but it was the best-publicised instance and consequently attracted the most condemnation from Hungary’s neighbours. At the same time, Hungarian Foreign Minister Geza Jeszenszky stressed that his government could make no agreements or treaties with neighbouring countries “over the heads” of the ethnic Hungarian minorities there. To Romania, such statements sounded like unwarranted interference in the country’s internal affairs. Towards a basic TreatyThe socialist-led government of Prime Minister Gyula Horn which took power in Hungary in July 1994 was widely seen as being more accommodating towards the Romanian authorities, and more determined to conclude a basic treaty between the two countries. Meanwhile Romania came under increasing pressure from the European Union and the Council of Europe to improve rights for its ethnic Hungarian minority, specifically as mandated by the Council of Europe Recommendation 1201, which was adopted by the Council of Europe s Parliamentary assembly on 1st of February 1993. It is worth noting that Recommendation 1201 was included in the Slovak-Hungarian Treaty signed in March 1995, which may have accounted for the renewed Council of Europe focus on this point in the case of Romania. Human rights rubbed in the dirtAs the Romanian Government developed and passed the new Education Law in June 1995, Hungarian minorities started to protest against it. The law gave primacy to education in the Romanian language throughout the country and throughout the education system. This, according to RMDS leader Bela Marko, implied a policy of, because if carried out to the letter the new law would require Romanian-language schools to be established even in villages with an entirely ethnic-Hungarian population. According to official Romanian statistics, 5.4 per cent of school students study in minority languages, with 209,131 (about 5 per cent) studying in Hungarian. The ethnic Hungarian community forms about 9 per cent of the total population. As the start of school year (15 September 1995) approached, several demonstrations were held to protest against the new law. Ethnic Hungarian leaders claimed that in many cases the new law prevented students pursuing higher education in the Hungarian language, as many subjects would only be offered in Romanian and all university entrance examinations would be conducted in Romanian. In addition to this the Romanian Government approved a law, that supported the banning of foreign (Hungarian) national symbols and the singing of foreign national anthems, a measure fully supported by the Romanian nationalist elements and apparently aimed mainly at the hampering Hungarian nationalist demonstrations. These two acts were hardly criticised both by the European Council and the Hungarian Government. In November 1995, inter-governmental talks on the Hungarian-Romanian basic treaty reopened in Budapest, this was the first direct contact after the introduction of the new laws of Romania. There had been a four month interval since last meeting, when Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs had been in Bucharest. However, this meeting in November was at a lower level, involving Secretaries rather than ministers. The sides were resolute and no significant process was made. It became clear that without international Pressure there will be no basic treaty signed in the near future between the two countries. International PressureIn January 1996, Max van der Stoel, OSCE High Commissioner for Ethnic Minorities, visited Bucharest, and also went to schools in Brasov and Covasna counties. He said that although the Education Law was in compliance with fundamental European legal norms, he feared that the spirit of the law might not be well applied. Mayor of Cluj Gheorghe Funar dismissed Mr. van der Stoel as a RMDS lawyer, and said that given his old age and state of health he should not be expected to live much longer. For his part, President Iliescu maintained that ethnic Hungarians in Romania had no difficulty leading a full cultural life, based on mutual regard and solidarity. In 13 February 1996, bilateral talks resumed, this time in Bucharest, with the brief participation of Richard Holbrooke, the US mediator in Bosnia. He urged both sides not to become “obsessed with real or imagined and often exaggerated historical grievances”. Romania stated that they were continuing to pursue two-track discussions, on both a basic treaty and the “historic reconciliation”. Hungarian officials acknowledged that there was now a dual process, and said that separate talks would now be held on each issue. And, despite RMDS pressure, Hungary agreed that minority representatives would have no place at the future talks (such groups had not enjoyed such a role previously). However, Hungary stated that there was no absolute need for the two countries to co-ordinate their membership bids for NATO. This brought a swift response from Romania, who said that a new demarcation line between Hungary and Romania during the expansion of NATO would upset the security balance of Central Europe. Future ConsiderationsThere is no sign of any advance in Hungarian-Romanian talks. The Hungarian Government has not been distracted by President Iliescu’s “historic reconciliation” plan and continues to press for specific minority rights guarantees in the basic treaty. Meanwhile, in Romania, the Education Law is still in place and points of tension remain between the ethnic Hungarian community and the Romanian authorities. Ethnic Romanians from Harghita, Covasna and Mures counties have complained to President Iliescu that they were “ethnically cleansed” by local ethnic Hungarians after the December 1989 overthrow of Ceausescu. This theme has been a common strand of anti-Hungarian sentiment, as evidenced for example in an inflammatory book, “Romanians Hunted Down In Their Own Country”, which is distributed by the Romanian Government Information Department. Ethnic Hungarians were suspicious at the deployment of additional troops in Covasna and Harghita counties, although the Romanian Defence Ministry said the move was purely operational and not related to any ethnic issue. In April 1996, several drunken ethnic Hungarians attacked an ethnic Romanian policeman in the town of Odorheiu Secuiesc. The policeman subsequently died from his injuries. Local people denied the attack was ethnically motivated and said it was simply a criminal act. Although the Education Law remains in force, there have been some hopeful cultural initiatives in the field of the media. A new radio station in Tirgu Secuiesc went on the air in August 1995, with 75 per cent Hungarian-language programming. This is the first radio station in Romania to broadcast the majority of its programmes in Hungarian. And in April 1996, a new private television station, broadcasting half in Romanian and half in Hungarian, started broadcasting in Tirgu Mures, with the declared aim of building bridges between the two communities. Proposal for the Hungarian GovernmentThe fundamental goal of the Hungarian Government s regional policy has to be the reinforcement of stability in the region. The Government will have to raise co-operation amongst Central-Eastern European countries in order to keep the basic treaties working. The way of increasing communication and co-operation amongst the neighbouring countries, Romania and Slovakia in particular, is to improve economic ties between Hungary and these countries. Economic ties will help to reduce the ethnic tensions and the dislike of Hungarians, which partly arose from the different dates at which the countries in the region will become NATO and/or European Union members. The key to estabilish a strong international economic tie between Romania, Slovakia and Hungary lies in the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA). The countries involved in this agreement should pay attention to their investment policies. The mutual co-operation between countries would not only improve the situation of ethnic minorities, but would help to enable the Eastern European countries, to live up to the standards of the European Community in a shorter period of time. However, the two organisations that all Central and Eastern European states most aspire to join – the European Union and NATO – are not primarily concerned with ethnic minority issues. Their main criteria for admission are economic fitness and geopolitical stability. This, means that neither body is likely to make ethnic minority rights an absolute criterion for membership, although of course they may stress the desirability of good ethnic relations. This criteria opens the way for long-term planning and solutions.This criterion also has key importance, in a short term it might hinder the negotiations further, between Hungary and its neighbours, concerning minority issues. The Hungarian government is forced to make a choice between its ethnic population living abroad and the application for the European Union. The choice had been made when Hungary rejected the principle of a joint application process to the European Union, as the country sees itself, as being further along the road to membership. The recent years of economic growth in Hungary enabled the country to fully use its economic power and influence to improve the economy and living standards on one hand, and to fulfil the economic criterions for the European Union on the other. For now and the coming few years, this leaves the country with only words in the process of fighting for the rights of minorities. I personally see this as the best possible preparation for improving the situation of ethnic Hungarians living abroad. The influence and the power of the Hungarian Government will increase dramatically once Hungary is part of EU. The minority issue will be no longer based on historical concepts, nor mutual dislike, but will be the protection of a nation thats part of the United Europe. ConclusionWith the exception of Ukraine, rights for the ethnic Hungarian minorities in all the countries under consideration in this paper have worsened in years after the end of the Cold War. In Slovakia and Romania, specific laws dealing with language rights, education and territorial administration have demonstrably worsened the position of the ethnic Hungarian community. In Vojvodina, the aftermath of the Yugoslav War, the resettlement of ethnic Serb refugees in the area and the nationalist make-up of the government in Belgrade have made an improvement in ethnic rights unlikely, and a return to the old autonomous status of Vojvodina unthinkable in the near future. The Slovak ratification of the treaty with Hungary is perhaps the most disturbing trend, both for Hungary itself and for Europe as a whole. Slovakia took an entire year to ratify the treaty, and when it finally did so, it refused to acknowledge the clause most vital to ethnic Hungarian rights and good bilateral relations. Slovakia did this despite being a Council of Europe member, and despite receiving a number of warnings from respected international bodies. There are no signs of the present Slovak Government modifying its position. And with elections due in Romania at the end of the year, the Romanian-Hungarian treaty is unlikely to make progress in the near future. On the Hungarian side, the government of Prime Minister Gyula Horn has been forced to concern itself mainly with domestic economic issues, and has pulled away from the high profile stance on ethnic Hungarians abroad which was the hallmark of the first post-Communist government. While not abandoning the ethnic Hungarians in neighbouring countries altogether, Prime Minister Horn seems more concerned to make bilateral progress with the country s neighbours despite existing ethnic problems, but also to make independent Hungarian advances in Western Europe. Nonetheless, the manner in which Vladimir Meciar, “a man of his word” according to Gyula Horn, ratified the Slovak-Hungarian treaty must have been a severe blow and leaves Hungary handicapped and outmanoeuvred in its relations with Slovakia. The pressure from bodies such as the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the European Parliament, may be too weak to effect immediate legal changes, but it will be vital to monitoring the ethnic Hungarian issue in a time of political volatility, and maintain an international focus on minority rights.