AHF Meets with Advisor to Congressional Delegation to Hungary and Slovakia
2/17/2012 - AHF briefs top professional staff advisor to Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia on the eve of congressional delegation (CODEL) trip to Hungary and Slovakia. The Federation submitted a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member along with significant background materials on Hungary and Slovakia and called their attention to recent harsh and often politically motivated and unfair criticism of Hungary and the anti-Hungarian attitudes, policies and practices in Slovakia.
On Thursday, February 16, Frank Koszorus, Jr., the president of the American Hungarian Federation (“Federation”), and Paul Kamenar, policy advisor and member of the Federation’s International Relations Committee, met with and briefed Brian Wanko, Professional Staff Member of the Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in advance of next week’s Congressional Delegation (CODEL) trip to Brussels, Hungary and Slovakia. The CODEL is headed by Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN), Chairman of the Subcommittee, and Ranking Member Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY) and will be accompanied by Mr. Wanko.
The Federation submitted a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member along with significant background materials on Hungary and Slovakia. The Federation’s submissions and presentation at the meeting reflected on the recent harsh and often politically motivated and unfair criticism of Hungary and suggested that discussions relating to democratic institution building should be “based on facts, and [done] in a fair, unbiased and even-handed manner bereft of partisanship and undertaken solely to promote Western values and in a manner that advances U.S. interests by strengthening relations with a valuable American ally.”
The Federation also raised the anti-Hungarian attitudes, policies and practices in Slovakia, citing the punitive citizenship law; the refusal to exonerate Janos Esterhazy; the discriminatory language law; and the continuing effects of the Benes Decrees. Building a “tolerant society would promote genuine democracy, defuse tensions caused by discrimination and intolerance, and promote U.S. interests in a Europe that is whole, free, stable and secure,” concluded the Federation.
The Honorable Dan Burton
The Honorable Gregory W. Meeks
Re: Upcoming Trip to Central Europe
Dear Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Meeks:
The American Hungarian Federation (“AHF”), founded in 1906 as an umbrella organization, represents a broad cross-section of the Hungarian American community. From its founding, it has supported constitutional democracy, human and minority rights, and the rule of law in Central and Eastern Europe. AHF also supports good American/Hungarian relations and U.S. engagement in the region to advance security through promotion of democracy. AHF has submitted testimony before your Committee on these issues. Your upcoming trip to Hungary and Slovakia presents a timely opportunity to advance these goals and U.S. interests in this region. We are respectfully submitting two memoranda relating to current issues involving both countries for consideration by your delegation.
Hungary. Although Hungary is a democracy, a member of NATO and an important U.S. ally, it recently has been harshly and often unfairly criticized by some in the United States and international community. AHF writes not because it believes that no steps could be taken to strengthen democracy or that no mistakes have been made. Rather it believes that much of the criticism is either politically motivated (inspired by the opposition) or not evenhanded or based on facts but on generalizations and speculation, i.e., what might happen as a result of the new laws as opposed to what has happened.
The perception of unfairness can be illustrated by Hungary’s recently enacted law on religions which has been criticized for being too restrictive. The Constitutional Court annulled parts of that law in December. And it appears that additional religions will also be recognized imminently. While further amendments may be in order, it is noteworthy that the latest State Department Report on Religious Freedom refers to similar restrictions in other European countries. The Report, for instance, notes that Austria only has 14 officially recognized religious societies. No one is averring, however, that democracy has been put at risk there or in other European countries.
While democracy and democratic institution building should be encouraged and discussed, they should be done based on facts, and in a fair, unbiased and even-handed manner bereft of partisanship and undertaken solely to promote Western values and in a manner that advances U.S. interests by strengthening relations with a valuable American ally.
Slovakia. An indispensable element of sustainable security in the region involves the respect for minority rights. Several of Slovakia’s laws, policies and practices discriminate against members of the Hungarian minority. These include: (1) a punitive citizenship law that deprives ethnic Hungarians of their Slovak citizenship if they become dual citizens; (2) refusal to exonerate Janos Esterhazy who was the only member of Slovakia’s parliament to vote against the deportation of Jews in 1942. He died in a communist Czechoslovak prison in 1957. On November 3, 2011, the Anti-Defamation League presented the Jan Karski Courage to Care Award posthumously to Esterhazy for saving persecuted Jews; (3) an oppressive language law that discriminates against Hungarians; and (4) the continuing effects of the Benes Decrees originally issued in 1945 that stripped ethnic Hungarians of their citizenship, virtually all of their rights – all on the unjustified basis of collective guilt.
A tolerant society that respects the human and minority rights of its minorities would promote genuine democracy, defuse tensions caused by discrimination and intolerance, and advance U.S. interests in a Europe that is whole, free, stable and secure.
Frank Koszorus, Jr.
AHF Statement to the House Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia: Minority Rights ought to be Respected by Slovakia [download]
The American Hungarian Federation (the “Federation”), founded in 1906 as an umbrella organization, is an independent, non-partisan entity representing a broad cross-section of the Hungarian American community. From its founding, the Federation has supported constitutional democracy, human and minority rights and the rule of law in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). The Federation supports continued American engagement in the region to help strengthen democratic institutions and the stability that derives from democracy. It also supports good trans-Atlantic relations.
This statement focuses on two issues: (1) minority rights as the prerequisite to democracy; and (2) intolerance and discrimination against members of the Hungarian minority living in Slovakia.
MINORITY RIGHTS: AN INDISPENSABLE ELEMENT OF REAL DEMOCRACY AND SUSTAINABLE SECURITY
A government that fails or refuses to respect minority rights can hardly be deemed to be genuinely democratic, even if it has come to power through the ballot. Moreover, granting legitimate minority rights to historical groups would defuse tensions and promote political stability and greater cooperation in the Carpathian Basin.
The issue of minority rights has nothing to do with borders or irredentism as some erroneously or falsely assert in order to ignore their international legal obligations. It has everything to do with meaningful and enduring stability in CEE. The Hungarian minorities who live in countries neighboring Hungary (due to the 1920 Treaty of Trianon which transferred over three million ethnic Hungarians and over 70% of the Hungary's territory to foreign rule) seek redress for their grievances strictly through peaceful and democratic means and contribute substantially to sustainable stability in the region. The stability flowing from collective rights is not only of interest to Hungarians, but should also be of great interest to the U.S. and NATO.
SLOVAKIA: ANTI-HUNGARIAN MEASURES AND ATTITUDES
More than two decades after the collapse of Communism, Slovakia has yet to fulfill its promises to its ethnic Hungarians. Although Slovakia was accepted into NATO and the EU based, in part, on these promises, the irrefutable record demonstrates that its laws and practices fail to conform to European and Western standards relating to human and minority rights. The members of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia often face intolerant or discriminatory laws, practices or attitudes. A few examples of Slovakia’s less than exemplary record will suffice.
Punitive Citizenship Law. Hungary’s citizenship law facilitates the acquisition of Hungarian citizenship by ethnic Hungarians living outside of Hungary, not just in countries neighboring Hungary. Nevertheless, Slovakia passed a punitive citizenship law specifically in response to Hungary’s citizenship law. While on its face Slovakia’s law deprives dual citizens of Slovak citizenship, the timing of the new law clearly demonstrates that it targets Hungarians. Slovakia’s law is not only contrary to European and American practices, it violates Paragraph 2 of Article 5 of the Slovak constitution, which provides that “no one must be deprived of the citizenship of the Slovak Republic against his will.”
Janos Esterhazy Still Awaits Exoneration. Slovakia should at long last exonerate Janos Esterhazy who as the leader of the Hungarian Party in Tiso’s Fascist Slovakia was the only Member of Parliament to vote against the deportation of Jews in 1942 and the anti-Semitic laws, which he criticized as not being in accordance with humanitarian principles. Esterhazy also personally helped Jews flee Slovakia.
Immediately after the war in 1945, Esterhazy was arrested on the orders of Gustav Husak, a post-war communist leader of Czechoslovakia, for speaking out against the discriminatory anti-Hungarian measures introduced by the government. After being handed over to the KGB, Esterhazy was convicted as a “war criminal” by a Soviet court.
In 1947, while Esterhazy was imprisoned in the Soviet Union, the National Court in Slovakia in a perfunctory proceeding, and without any evidence, sentenced him to death in absentia on the trumped up charges of being a fascist and having contributed to the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. It is a cruel irony that Esterhazy was wrongly accused of doing exactly what Slovakia would do on its own forty-six years later in the “Velvet Divorce” of 1993 -- dissolving Czechoslovakia. Upon his return from Russia, Esterhazy’s sentence was commuted to life in prison. He died in a Czechoslovak prison in 1957 and was buried in an undisclosed mass grave. While Russia exonerated him on January 21, 1993, acknowledging that he had been “arrested without cause,” more than twenty years after the fall of Communism, Slovakia astonishingly refuses to exonerate Esterhazy, an unsung hero of anti-Nazi resistance.
Discriminatory Language Law. An example of overt discrimination is the language law that took effect on September 1, 2009 in Slovakia and discriminates against ethnic Hungarians who comprise only 11% of the population and live in contiguous areas of southern Slovakia – the geographic location where they and their ancestors have lived for over a millenium.
The language law threatened the Hungarian minority’s culture and infringed on fundamental freedoms. The mere existence of the law, as drafted, caused considerable uncertainty, fear and anxiety among ethnic Hungarians. The result was to chill the use of their mother tongue, precisely why this law was so odious and anti-democratic. There is no place for such a law in 21st century Europe.
The language law was among the latest manifestation of the previous Slovak government’s intolerance toward its Hungarian minority. Not surprisingly, the Slovak National Party (“SNS”) was a member of the ruling coalition. Its chairman Jan Slota is known for his xenophobic outbursts: “Hungarians are the cancer of the Slovak nation, without delay we need to remove them from the body of the nation.” The Stephen Roth Institute has called the SNS “an extremist nationalist party.”
International objections to the law included the conclusions by the European Commission for Democracy Through Law (the “Venice Commission”), which criticized provisions of this law as being incompatible with international standards and reminded Slovakia that it was not absolved "of the obligation to comply with the provisions of the international conventions for the protection of national minorities." While this odious law has been modified, it is still on the books and does not reflect a tolerant attitude toward the Hungarians.
Lingering Effects of the Benes Decrees. The Slovak Parliament on September 20, 2007 adopted a resolution proposed by extremist Jan Slota ratifying and confirming the Benes Decrees originally issued between May 14 and October 27, 1945. Among the most controversial decrees were the ones which stripped ethnic Hungarians of their citizenship, virtually all of their rights, property (without compensation), dignity, and, in some cases, their lives – all on the unjustifiable basis of collective guilt. Hungarian schools were closed and the Hungarian language forbidden even in their churches. Czechoslovakia also pursued a policy of ethnic cleansing in southern Slovakia and sent thousands of Hungarians to camps. The debilitations continue to affect many of the victims of the crimes committed in post-World War II Czechoslovakia.
The concept of collective guilt is abhorrent to Americans and to anyone committed to the rule of law, human rights and democracy. Indeed, the United States did not endorse the principle of collective guilt of Hungarians in Slovakia. Nevertheless, as a result of pressure from the victorious powers, including the Soviet Union which favored Czechoslovakia, Hungary was forced to agree to a “population exchange.”
The Benes Decrees are still on the books and their discriminatory impact remains in effect. Compensation has yet to be paid to those whose properties were summarily and unjustly confiscated and legal redress for the inequities suffered by Hungarians solely because of their nationality are not in sight. Slovakia should provide legal redress to remedy the continuing and discriminatory effects of the Benes Decrees and thereby adopt the values shared by the trans-Atlantic community of nations.
Slovakia should be encouraged to build a tolerant society by respecting the human and minority rights of its Hungarian and other minorities and the rule of law. Concrete steps it should be urged to take include: restoration of Aladarne Tamas’ and Oliver Boldoghy’s Slovak citizenship; repeal of the citizenship law that strips Slovak citizenship of persons seeking dual citizenship; exoneration of Janos Esterhazy; repeal of the discriminatory language law; and repeal of the multiple Benes Decrees that affected ethnic Hungarians based on collective guilt. These actions would defuse tensions caused by discrimination and intolerance, improve Hungarian/Slovak relations, promote United States interests in a Europe that is whole, free stable and secure, and serve the cause of justice, genuine democracy and the rule of law.
3/5/2012 - UPDATE: AHF has Follow-Up Capitol Hill Meeting on Recent Congressional Trip to Hungary and Slovakia. “At a time when there is considerable misinformation being disseminated about Hungary and so little known about the discrimination against the Hungarian minority in Slovakia, we believe such fact-finding missions are most useful, welcome and greatly appreciated,” said Mr. Koszorus. “Objective analysis based on facts is imperative to advance U.S. interests in Hungary and the region,” he added. [read more]
Join the Discussion!
"Amerikai Magyar Szövetség: durva, méltánytalan bírálatok érték Magyarországot." Noha Magyarország demokrácia, a NATO tagja és az Egyesült Államok fontos szövetségese, az utóbbi időben durva és gyakran méltánytalan bírálatok érték mind az Egyesült Államokban, mind máshol külföldön – hangoztatta az Amerikai Magyar Szövetség (AMSZ) a héten Magyarországra és Szlovákiába látogató amerikai kongresszusi küldöttség tagjaihoz intézett levelében. [tovább]
Amerikai Magyar Szövetség: részrehajlás nélküli megítélést! - MTI [Szeged Ma]
American Hungarian Federation slams “unmerited criticism directed at Hungary” [more]
Magyarország amerikai mikroszkóp alatt: valós aggodalmak vagy elfogult politikai támadás? Az Egyesült Államok legnagyobb magyar emigráns szervezete, az Amerikai Magyar Szövetség közleményt bocsátott ki a Magyarországot ért politikailag motivált, érdemtelen amerikai kritikákra reagálva. Az írás különösen aktuális, hiszen februárban tényfeltáró amerikai kongresszusi delegáció utazik hazánkba. [tovább]
One thousand years of nation building successfully delineated groups based on culture, religion, geography, and other attributes to create the countries with which we are so familiar. While some Western European nations would continue power struggles and princely battles and civil wars, Hungary, founded in 896, was a peaceful multi-ethnic state for a 1000 years and her borders were virtually unchanged. Until 1920...
The Treaty of Trianon in 1920... in the aftermath of WWI, was extremely harsh on Hungary and unjustifiably one-sided. The resulting "treaty" lost Hungary an unprecedented 2/3 of her territory, and 1/2 of her total population or 1/3 of her Hungarian-speaking population. Add to this the loss of up to 90% of vast natural resources, industry, railways, and other infrastructure.
In the newly created Slovakia, the tragedy of 1920 that befell the historic Hungarian communities was only the beginning. The Benes Decrees sent hundreds of thousands of people, who had lived in the region for many centuries, off in sealed wagons, away from their homes, their families - not to mention the odd ones who died on the trip. Tens of thousands of these were Hungarian. More recently, the Slovak Language Law makes the use of the minority language in official communication punishable in towns and villages where the ethnic community makes up less than 20 percent of the total population. The amendment requires that all documentation of minority schools should be duplicated in the state language. The law stipulates that the names of streets and buildings anywhere in Slovakia must be stated in the Slovak language [despite 1100-year-old tradition] and it also introduces sanctions of 100 to 5000 euros for municipalities and public offices for not using the Slovak language "properly."
The following graphic shows ethnic distribution in Slovakia and population decline from 1910 - 1991:
Ethnic Distribution in the Kingdom of Hungary in 1910 (Hungarians shown in red)
Hungarian populations declined significantly after forced removals such as the Benes Decrees and other pograms, the effects of WWI, and Trianon in 1920. With continued pressure and discriminative policies such as the 2009 Slovak Language Law, this trend continued over the past 90 years.
By Any Other Name: Hungary, Apartheid,
and the Benes Decrees
These decrees sent millions of people, who had lived in the region for many centuries, off in sealed wagons, away from their homes, their families - not to mention the odd ones who died on the trip.
WHAT THE BENES DECREES SAY
One may be forgiven for suspecting, by the casual way the Benes Decrees are often disparaged by commentators, that many of those who write about the Decrees have never taken the trouble to [read them].
Living as I have for over 20 years in South Africa, I know this language well. It is the language of Apartheid.
There is no moral difference, to my mind, in withdrawing civil rights, confiscating private property and deporting people, whether they be Black South Africans sent to some "Homeland/Bantustan," or Armenians, or deported Chechens, or Germans and Hungarians.
The Hungarians who lived in what is now Slovakia and Trans-Carpathian Ukraine (which was given to Stalin by a grateful Benes in 1945) were more than one million strong in 1910. By 1930, thanks to the above-mentioned "administrative" cleansing, their numbers had been reduced to 585,434. After Hungary reclaimed its lands in 1939, people began moving back to their homes. In 1941-45, there were about 761,000 in what is today Slovakia alone. [read more]
The "Benes Decrees" began in the mind of Czech statesman Edvard Benes sometime in 1940. He made some quite clear statements about his plans by 1941. The plans? To kill and/or expel all people of German or Hungarian ethnicity/language from a reunited Czechoslovakia, which had fallen apart at the start of the war. This is the sort of thing you would expect from a Himmler or a Beria, not a guy who is lionised in Western history books, and generally books about Central Europe, as the only true "democrat" in the region. But Czechoslovakia was never a complete democracy. Just as interwar Hungary, or Poland, or Yugoslavia, were not. Not quite. In Czechoslovakia, designed as a "national homeland" for Slavs, the Slavic Rusyns had to have two votes to equal one Czech vote! Democracy? [read more]
THE PRESIDENTIAL DECREES
OF EDWARD BENES
The first Czechoslovak Republic (1918-1938) was recreated in 1945 at the end of World War II and existed until the end of 1992. In both cases, Czechoslovakia utterly failed to form a governmental structure that secured freedom, prosperity, peace, and equal rights for all citizens of the state.
In 1918, the newly founded Czechoslovak Republic was entirely carved out of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy by a unilateral decision of the victorious entente powers. The dictated peace treaties of Versailles, Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Trianon were not an outcome of a true peace conference at which the defeated would also have been given the opportunity to enunciate the limits of acceptable conditions for peace. Such a peace conference was never assembled.
The Versailles peace treaty with Germany was condemned by non-interested parties. In fact, the US Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, had declared that "the Versailles treaty menaces the existence of civilization," and two popes had stigmatized the instrument. Benedict XV condemned it for "the lack of an elevated sense of justice, the absence of dignity, morality or Christian nobility," and Pius XI, in his 1922 encyclical "Ubi arcam Dei," deplored an artificial peace set down on paper "which instead of arousing noble sentiments increases and legitimizes the spirit of vengeance and rancour."
The peace treaty of Trianon (1920) with Hungary resulted in the dismemberment of the thousand- year- old Hungarian Kingdom, as a result of an unbelievably inimical attitude of the allied representatives toward the Magyars. The consequence to Hungary was a loss of 71.5% of its territory and 63.6% of its population. The extreme tragedy of Hungary can be illustrated by comparing the smaller losses in 1871 of France to Germany, in which France gave up 2.6% of its territory and 4.1% of its population to Germany. The Trianon treaty forced three and a half million Magyars to live, without their consent, in Czechoslovakia, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenians and Rumania, with the stroke of a pen. The right of self-determination of nations, solemnly promised in the 14 points of US President Woodrow Wilson, was apparently forgotten. [more]
The Hungarian Problem
Newly Elected Prime Minister Viktor Orban said it well: "The borders of the Hungarian nation and the Hungarian State do not coincide." This is true, as witness the fact that fully one-third of all Hungarians are minorities in neighbouring countries, most just on the far side of the border.
This is, naturally, a problem for Hungarians. It is also a problem for all the states who got Hungarian lands. Many in neighbouring countries, and politicians in many more, have said in the past, and no doubt will say in the future: "Why don't they just go home?!!" But they are home!
They are home in the sense that they, as communities, haven't moved anywhere. They just woke up one morning to be told: "You are now a Czechoslovak, you are a Romanian, you are a Yugoslav." This first happened in 1918-20, when Hungary was partitioned by the infamous Trianon Treaty, which was not a treaty at all, but a diktat enforced by occupying Entente Armies. In the late 1930's, Hungary got some portions of its territories back, but after losing yet another war, the borders were tightened even more in 1947.
The key weakness of these treaties was that neither ever asked - or cared - what the local population wanted. Did they want to join a new state (e.g., Czechoslovakia) did they want to stay with Hungary, or did they want independence or autonomy or what?
The fact that these questions have never even been asked, let alone answered, in a supposedly democratic age, remains the central problem of the Hungarian minorities in the countries immediately surrounding Hungary. [more] [back to all AHF news]
..."the American government accepts, against its better judgment, the decision not to announce a plebiscite in the matter of the final drafting of frontiers. He believes that in many respects the frontiers do not correspond to the ethnic requisite, nor to economic necessity, and that significant modifications would be in order, particularly in the Ruthenian area." Later on Wallace submitted for the consideration of the Great Powers proposals with regard to a restoration of the economic unity of the Danubian states. The American initiative, however, came too late ... The only thing left was the Millerand cover letter, which did not oblige anyone to do anything!
The Hungarian peace delegation signed the peace treaty consisting of 14 points at the so-called Great Trianon palace, near Paris, on June 4, 1920. Hungary's fate was determined for an unforeseeable future by the second part of the treaty which defined the new borders. According to this section Hungary's area (without Croatia) would be reduced from 282,000 km2 to 93,000 km2, whereas its population decreased from 18 million to 7.6 million. This meant that Hungary lost two thirds of its territory, whereas Germany lost but 10 percent and Bulgaria but 8 percent to the benefit of their victorious neighbors.
As regards population, Hungary lost more than 60 percent of its inhabitants as opposed to the 10 percent lost by Germany. In the lands taken away from Hungary there lived approximately 10 million persons. Persons of Hungarian nationality constituted 3,424,000 in the areas taken away from Hungary. Of these 1,084,000 were attached to Czechoslovakia, 1,705,000 to Romania, 564,000 to Yugoslavia, and 65,000 to Austria. Thus 33.5 percent of all Hungarians came under foreign rule, i.e., every third Hungarian. For the sake of comparison. while the treaties of Versailles and Neuilly placed only one German or one Bulgarian out of every twenty under foreign rule, the Trianon treaty placed seven out of twenty Hungarians in the same position.
Furthermore about one half of the Hungarian minority attached to the neighboring states was ethnically directly next to the main body of Hungarians on the other side of the borders. Had the peace treaties signed in the Paris suburbs really tried to bring about, however incidentally, nation-states, then it would have had to leave at least 11/4 to 2 million more Hungarians inside Hungary. In contrast the 42 million inhabitants of the successor states there were about 16 million minorities, as a consequence of which Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia became multinational states much like the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy had been. What is more, according to the census of 1910 the percentage of Hungarians in Hungary had reached 54.4 percent, whereas in the nations that came about as a result of the peace treaties, in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, the leading Czech and Serbian elements constituted but a minority as compared to the other ethnic groups.
The Treaty of Trianon was a great blow to Hungary in economic terms as well. Hungary was deprived of 62.2 percent of its railroad network, 73.8 percent of its public roads, 64.6 percent of its canals, 88 percent of its forests, 83 percent of its iron ore mines and of all its salt mines.
At the Peace Conference the Entente powers, in order to satisfy the imperialist greed of their allies in central Europe, cut across roads, canals, railroad lines, split cities and villages in two, deprived mines of their entrances, etc.
There was but one modification of the frontier: thanks to Italian intercession
and the stand taken by patriotic forces in Western Hungary, a plebiscite
was obtained in Sopron and its environs. At the plebiscite of December
4, 1921, 65 percent of the population opted for Hungary.
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