21st Oct 2016

Ethnic Hungarians in Romania keen to get Hungarian passport

  • Two ethnic Hungarian women in traditional attire passing by policemen in the Romanian town of Odorheiul Secuiesc (Photo: Silviu Ciobanu)

Romania's 1.5 million-strong Hungarian minority has embraced the chance to receive Hungarian citizenship. The proposal, set to cover ethnic Hungarians living in neighbouring countries, was announced by the new centre-right government in Budapest. Their idea, which is now a draft law, could include voting rights and other benefits.

"This is an extremely important element", said Attila Lászlo, ethnic Hungarian and deputy mayor of the Romanian city Cluj. "[Governing party] Fidesz wants national minorities in Hungary to be represented in the Hungarian parliament, so it makes sense to also have representatives of the Hungarians living outside the country's borders," he explained.

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If the draft law is adopted, it would mean that the two main parties of Romanian Hungarians will be able to send candidates to the next parliamentary elections in Hungary. This would increase the influence of Hungarians living in Romania on policy making in Budapest.

Hungary's neighbours have received the proposal of dual citizenship with suspicion, however.

In Slovakia, the government of prime minister Robert Fico reacted vehemently to Budapest's announcement, threatening to strip Slovak nationality from any ethnic Hungarian who takes up the offer. Romania's response has been more cautious. So far, it has abstained from an official position.

The Hungarian draft nationality law has many implications, says Octavian Sergentu, a Cluj-based political analyst. "Aside from the consolidation of the ethnic identity of the Transylvanian Hungarians, this law will lead to the creation of a powerful Transylvanian lobby inside Hungary," the analyst said.

The draft law would certainly raise the presence of Romania's ethnic Hungarians in Hungarian politics. Over 85 percent of them would claim dual citizenship once the law is passed in Budapest, according to a recent poll by the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania.

Beyond political circles, pragmatic expectations prevail. Sándor Demeter, an ethnic Hungarian student at Cluj University, said he will apply for Hungarian citizenship as soon as the draft law is passed. "Hungarians can obtain a US visa much faster than Romanians," he explained. "In this crisis, I can't see any future for me in Cluj. I would rather drop my studies, get a visa and go to work in the United States," Mr Demeter stated.

For István Kiss, who runs a small business in the Transylvanian district Mures, Hungarian citizenship is important for one's image abroad. "In Austria, for instance, if you say you come from Romania, people look down on you. If you are Hungarian, things change and the Austrians become friendlier," said the businessman.

Young people hope Hungarian citizenship will give them access to research grants and study opportunities. Their parents, many of whom worked in both Romania and Hungary, see the citizenship offer as a chance to improve their retirement prospects.

"I think it would simplify things for me if I could transfer my pension to Hungary," said Ildiko Nagy, a hospital nurse in Budapest, who comes from Oradea in Transylvania.

"In Hungary, housing is cheaper, and so is food, while people are much more relaxed, less stressed. I've been working in Budapest since 1993 and I am entitled to some social benefits. I only hope that my pension in Hungary will be higher than the one I would get in Romania," Ms Nagy explained.

This article, reporting the views of ethnic Hungarians living in Romania and written prior to the law being adopted, contains mistaken perceptions about the exact content of the new legislation. Please see follow-up article

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