New Tension in Central & S.E. Europe


(“Kathimerini”, June 21, 2001)

The last 24 hours have seen the revival of an extremely dangerous source of tension, one which marks the passing of the minority crises from the Balkans into central Europe, at the same time that once again negotiations between the Slavo-Macedonian and Albanian parties in the FYROM have collapsed.

This time it is the Hungarian parliament, which in a decision issued the day before yesterday has triggered the renascence of an almost everlasting dispute between Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia and Slovakia, concerning the situation of the Hungarian minorities in these countries. Some 3.5 million Hungarians live in neighbouring countries, as a result of the dismemberment of Hungary effected by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920 (1.5-2 million in Romania, especially in Transylvania, 600,000 in Slovakia and 350,000 in Yugoslavia, mainly in Voivodina, as well as 200,000 in the Ukraine, etc.).

The problem lies in the fact that the Hungarian parliament has decided that the citizens of Romania, Slovakia and Yugoslavia, etc., who are of Romanian descent shall have the right to work freely in Hungary for three months each year, to receive free university education, health care, etc. The result is expected to be an increase in nationalist tensions in these countries, since their citizens of Hungarian descent are seen to be acquiring special privileges by decision of a foreign state. The potential for tension is exacerbated by the fact that Hungary will be one of the first eastern European countries to gain EU membership—something those of its neighbours mentioned above cannot look forward to for some considerable time.

The Hungarian leadership has not concealed the dangerous perspective from which it is approaching the whole issue. The Hungarian Prime Minister himself, Victor Orban, has spoken of an ‘attempt to unite the nation beyond our frontiers’. The Minister of Foreign Affairs in Budapest has declared: ‘By virtue of this legislation we are experiencing the reuniting of the Hungarian nation in the run-up to Hungary’s entry into the EU’.

The President and Prime Minister of Romania hastened to reject categorically the legislation in question and to make clear that there is no question of their permitting its application to Romanian citizens. The Prime Minister of Slovakia declared that the only effect of the legislation is to ‘poison the relations between ethnic groups in neighbouring countries and between Hungary and those same countries’.

The European Commission and the various European governments are following these developments with profound anxiety. They are all too aware of the explosive potential of the problem of the expatriate Hungarians—a problem which could lead to the Balkanization of part of central Europe, with dramatic consequences.

We must hope that the Romanian-Hungarian agreement of 1996, which is supposed to have settled this problem, was not just a tactical maneuver by Budapest to secure entry into NATO and the EU, but instead a sincere expression of intent to find peaceful forms of harmonious coexistence. The problems of ‘Greater Albania’ are quite enough in themselves for Europe to handle—the continent can do without the additional problems caused by a ‘Greater Hungary’.

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