Posted by: MYPLACE FP7 | February 11, 2013

Book Review: Are Hungarians getting well in Slovakia?

Originally published in the Slovak Journal of Political Sciences, a review of the recently publication by MYPLACE Slovakia research team leader at UCM v Trnave, Professor Ladislav Macháček.

Review by Karol Šebík first published: Slovak Journal of Political Sciences, Volume 13, 2013, No. 1 65

For more information on the MYPLACE project, visit the project’s website: HERE

MACHÁČEK, Ladislav: Ako sa máte Maďari na Slovensku? (Are Hungarians getting
well in Slovakia?)

Trnava : University of Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Trnava, 2011, 80 p. ISBN

The author – professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences, the University of SS. Cyril and
Methodius in Trnava, presents a specific approach to the analysis of
Slovak-Hungarian relations in his publication. The relations between the Slovak
majority and the Hungarian minority living in Slovakia are usually the subject
of many sociological researches in the Slovak population. The publication Ako
sa máte Maďari na Slovensku? (Are Hungarians getting well in Slovakia?) is
based on the research project Enria EAST, which analyzes opinions, attitudes,
values and expectations from the representative sample of the Hungarian
minority, but not exclusively in national issues.

The first chapter entitled Historical and sociological contexts of minority
issue in Slovakia leans on the results of the 2001 census, according to which
the Hungarians represent about 10 % of the population of the Slovak Republic.
Most Hungarians live very closely to the Hungarian border in southern Slovakia
and exceed 10 % of the local population in five counties (kraj). The author
agrees with Marcela Gbúrová that the Hungarian minority in Slovakia is not only
the most numerous but also most developed civil and cultural minority. The
election results of the parties representing the Hungarian minority are the
proof of this forwardness. The Hungarian minority was organised politically in
the SMK-MKP that was a member of the ruling coalition of the Slovak Republic
(1998 – 2006) and consistently acquires approximately 15 % of the parliamentary
seats in the National Council of the Slovak Republic. The Hungarian minority
has a strong participation in the regional self-governments and has a majority
position in the municipal councils in many towns and villages. Thus, it is
interesting that no candidate for Chairman of the autonomous region from the
political parties of the Hungarian minority won the election. The author
emphasizes that major society is sensitive to the decisions of municipal
self-governments in cases of limiting the cultural rights of the Slovak
minority in cities with a Hungarian majority (e.g.: the acceptance of placing a
statue of Ss. Cyril and Methodius in the Komarno city center).

A description of the Enri EAST research project is an integral part of the
introductory chapter. The project should render new data about the Hungarian
minority in Slovakia. The research profile provides a possibility not only for
a comparison with other researches carried out in Slovakia in the recent years
(Krivý, V.; Mészárosová-Lamplová, Z.; Homišinová, M.), but also for comparing
the conditions for the Hungarian minority in Ukraine, and for the Slovak
minority in Hungary. The Enria EAST project provides an opportunity to clarify
the effect of state policy in the field of cultural development of national
minorities in those countries.

The second chapter is entitled The role of ethnicity in collective (social)
identity. The concept of identity should be strictly construed in situational
contexts. The identity of an ordinary citizen is multi-layered, and layers
internally do not interact with each other. This socio-constructivist
conception of identity is held by the authors of the research, and the
respondents made use of three options. Out of 801 respondents in Slovakia, 174
respondents chose “important” for the identity in the first place category of
“national identity”, 145 respondents chose this option in the second round of
selection, and 107 respondents did so in the third round. The ethnic dimension
of identity is considered as the most important by 17.7% of the Hungarian
respondents in Slovakia. Other important identity dimensions are gender
(14.9%), age (11.4%), the municipality in which they live (12.3%), employment
(9%), the Slovak citizenship (7%), and Europeanism (4.7%). Other components
(social class and party affiliation) occupy a negligible position. For the
Slovak citizens with Hungarian ethnicity, nationality is of a significant, but
only complementary importance in the field of role-status identities.

The comparison of the Slovaks in Hungary, the Hungarians in Ukraine, and the
Hungarians in Slovakia demonstrates that countries and their national
minorities are really different in those segments of their own identity they
regard as important. The Slovak Hungarians more often than the other minorities
derive their identity from the town or city in which they live. In particular,
the demonstration of civic loyalty of a minority to the state is the most
important for the Slovaks living in Hungary (14 – 17%) if compared with the
Hungarians in Slovakia (6 – 9 %), but particularly with the Hungarians in
Ukraine (1.2 to 3.8 %). In Ukraine, the citizens of the Hungarian minority
mainly emphasize their confessional identity that is different (Orthodox) from
the majority population. The third chapter presents an identification construct
of the Enri EAST project which was created by combining two indicators: the
“national identity” and the “citizenship.” The respondents
in Slovakia made use of four options for the self-categorization and most
members of the ethnic minorities were identified with the characteristic
“I am a Hungarian living in Slovakia” (68 %). Two groups of a relatively
same size chose the identity “I am a Hungarian” (16 %) or “I am
Slovak with Hungarian origins” (13 %). Only a few individuals indicated
that they are Slovaks (1 %).

The research results hypothesize that “adaptation” or
“acceptance” of coexistence with the majority society does not
automatically mean a “cultural assimilation” or the loss of
“ethnic identity”. According to the author, „…the willingness of
the Slovak Hungarians to prove certain “civic loyalty” to the state
framework of its existence, which is balanced by adequate possibilities of
cultural development, confirms the hypothesis“ (p. 26). The examples obtained
by a qualitative method of individual depth interviews clearly show the fact
that respondents identify “citizenship” and “nationality”
as two separate but interdependent entities.

The identity type “I am a Hungarian living in Slovakia” is the core
identity for the Slovak citizens with Hungarian nationality and it is indicated
by slightly higher pride in this form of identity compared to the others. This
form is experienced more intensely, up to 44.2% of the respondents are very
proud of being “Hungarians living in Slovakia.” This chapter also
analyses what it means to be a “true Hungarian”. The respondents take
into consideration speaking fluently the Hungarian language (72.5%) as well as
feeling like Hungarians (69.2%) to be the most important factors. The Hungarian
ancestry (38.5%) is much less important than the first categories, and other
factors, such as religion or to be born or live in Hungary, are even less

According to the research results, the opportunity to develop identity through
own cultural customs and traditions by communication with friends (66.7%) and
reading newspapers and magazines (53.2%) in the Hungarian language have the
greatest importance for the respondents. The language is thus perceived as a
symbol of minority identity and also as an instrument of its conservation and
development. The results also indicate that the Hungarian language is the only
language spoken in families and households (75.4%). In many families,
communication among its members is commonly carried out in both the Slovak and
Hungarian languages (21%), and there is only a small number of families
speaking exclusively in the Slovak language (3.4%).

A preference of the Slovak and Hungarian communication channels for obtaining
new information about the latest development in society was also one of the
project´s partial objectives. Surprisingly, while Slovak newspapers and those
dedicated to the Hungarian minority in Slovakia are more popular than the
original Hungarian periodicals, the Hungarian television is watched about 20%
more often than the Slovak one. Moreover, there is a considerably very low
interest in watching the programs designed for the Hungarian minority
broadcasted by the Slovak Television, which is regularly watched by only 3.5%
of the respondents. The situation in radio broadcasting is different: the
Hungarian radios dominate in the radio popularity, followed by the Slovak
Radio, and specialized programs for the Hungarian minority in the Slovak Radio
are listened by the smallest group of respondents.In Slovakia, the dispute over
the state and minority languages has been in the centre of political and public
debates for many years. The research results indicate a relatively positive
development of the Slovak language usage as well as an attitude of the
Hungarian minority towards its usage in the daily communication. According to
the author, Hedviga Malinova´s case has served to aggravate national tensions
for a very long time. Therefore, the research questions dedicated to the
perception of the social inequalities and disparities, conflicts and
discrimination are still up to date. Do the respondents consider them as a
source for social conflicts? The nationality tension between the Slovak
majority and the Hungarian one is perceived by the respondents as the third
most acute (11.7%). According to the project, the tension between the Roma
minority and the Slovak citizens (35.8%), and that between the rich and the
poor (23%) are more acute. The relations between different religious groups are
problematic only for a small group of respondents (7%). Thus, the antagonism
between different nationalities in Slovakia is not considered as the most critical
and important aspect in the society common life.

The seventh chapter deals with the personal and institutional trust in Slovak
society. The issues related to discrimination show that the Slovak Hungarians
have experience with discrimination not only owing to their nationality
(12.9%), but they were also discriminated because of their age (9.1%), gender
(4.6%) or even, in exceptional cases, of their religion (1.4%). On average, one
of the 10 Slovak Hungarians has experienced discrimination because of her/his
nationality. Some cases of ethnic discrimination are illustrated in the
examples of the in-depth interviews with the respondents.

In general sociological surveys, trust to social institutions and groups of
people of a different race or ethnicity is monitored continuously. The
phenomenon “trust between people in general” is essential for the
distinction from “trust” for persons of other nationality which is
usually monitored in a given community and given time. The Slovak Hungarians
can be characterized by relatively high “trust in people” (61.5%).
Average trust in the Slovaks reaches 64.4%. It is obvious that trust in the
Hungarians living in Slovakia (77.5%) and those living in Hungary (71.8%) is

In principle, trust opinion polls illustrate that the Slovaks show relatively
low trust not only in the executive power (government) or legislative
(parliament), but mainly in politicians and political parties. The citizens of
the Hungarian minority show the greatest skepticism for the government (66.5%)
and parliament (65.6%), followed by the judicial system (59.2%) and police
(55.6%). The best position among the respondents was obtained by media
(mistrust manifested only by 49.5% of the respondents). All public opinion
surveys in Slovakia also confirm that the Hungarian minority has relatively
high civic and political participation especially in comparison with the
majority population. The research focused on the specification of this overall
trend. In the Hungarian minority, mild interest in politics (35 – 40%)
dominates over strong interest and political apathy. In this case, the Slovak
Hungarians concern themselves less frequently and less intensely with politics
of Hungary than with that of Slovakia. The focus on the area of problems that
are directly related to the Hungarian minority living in Slovakia is the
dominant part of this interest. There is an increasing share of the respondents
with high and intense interest (from 12.2% to 20.8%) in this field.

The research informatively deals with the participation of the respondents in
the latest two elections: the parliamentary elections in 2006 and the European
ones in 2009. In both cases, it was confirmed that the participation of the
Slovak citizens of the Hungarian nationality had been higher than the general
average Slovak turnout. The respondents chose the SMK – the Hungarian Coalition
Party the most often. But not all members of the Hungarian minority voted for
the Hungarian political parties. Both the SDKÚ and SMER-SD received a
relatively large share of votes from the Hungarian minority.

In Slovakia, the process of integration into the European and Euro-Atlantic
institutions was relatively problematic after 1993. But the Hungarian citizens
express their positive attitudes not only to the EU as a specific institution
(50.7%), but also to the positive evaluation of the benefits that the EU
membership has brought for Slovakia (58.1%). The position of minorities is
associated with this aspect, too. According to the respondents, the level of
“recognition of the Hungarian culture” is the same after Slovakia’s
accession to the EU as before (52.6%). Similarly, the citizens with the
Hungarian nationality reflect the case “application of the minority voice
in politics” (45.6%). Deteriorating and improving conditions for the
cultural development of the Hungarian minority or deterioration of the ability
to exercise minority claims in politics are perceived by approximately the same
proportion of the respondents (16% – 23%). The Slovak citizens with Hungarian
nationality, as well as the citizens of the old EU member states, show some
concerns for the consequences or the side effects of the integration process.
It is noteworthy that the critical concern is not connected with the
integration and “ethnic” issues, but mainly with the personal and
family safety and social security.

The final chapter is devoted to generational aspects in the transformation
processes of ethnic minority identity and specific communication and
information channels used by generations, to the Hungarian identity and its
generational dimensions and to the civic and political participation of the
Hungarian minority in Slovakia. In principle, the younger generation does not
associate the integration process with the concerns of lossing its ethnic identity.
But the older generation does. Although the publication contains a conclusion
at its end, the last chapter excellently summarizes the main results of the
research and the attitudes and opinions of the Hungarian minority in a wide
range of issues, not only the national ones.

The reviewed publication specifies some areas that have been discussed in the
above mentioned sociological researches, but also provides new answers to the
questions which have not been asked till today. At this point it should be
noted that chapters in this publication are mostly attractively and suitably
supplemented by testimonies of the respondents. It increases the attractiveness
for readers from the non-academic community, for instance from the civil
society. At the same time, testimonies of the Hungarian minority prove that the
radical nationalist and civil disloyal opinions are definitely not a majority
position among the Hungarians living in Slovakia. The materials published in
the annex (pp. 77-78) show that the Slovak massmedia are tendenciously biased
to present the research results. Especially the ability and usage of the Slovak
language by the Hungarian minority serve to attract the media attention.

The political and scientific contribution of the reviewed publication consist
in the whole complex of data clarifying the fact that the nationalist radical
political party SMK did not receive a such number of votes in the 2010 and 2012
parliamentary elections as the MOST-HID which accentuated national
understanding and civic cooperation.

The publication has a potential to provide useful and interesting information
for both the Slovak or Hungarian civic spheres that can transform it into a
better understanding of other cultures and increasing the overall tolerance of
our society.

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