Transborder Hungarian Perspectives

Transborder Hungarian Perspectives

Academia

01/2019  | Reading time: 5 minutes

The Antall József Knowledge Centre conducted a series of interviews during Summer 2018 to analyse the perspectives of transborder Hungarian communities and study the most important issues related to their everyday lives beyond the current political, economic and legal discourses. The series “Transborder Hungarian Perspectives”, published on AJKC’s Research Blog during December 2018, introduces these issues from different angles and brings them closer to our readers through interviews. Who are the role models for Hungarians over the border? How should we imagine the future of these communities in five or ten years? Why are bilingual signs so important? What do transborder Hungarians read? This week, the questions are directed to representatives of transborder Hungarian academic life: Miklós Bakk, politologist, Associate Professor at the Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania (Romania); János Fiala-Butora, expert on minority rights, Research Fellow at the Legal Studies Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Slovakia); and Márk Losoncz, philosopher, Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory, Belgrade University (Serbia).

AJKC: The use of the mother tongue is an important part of national identity and the existence of the community itself. What kind of challenges do you think transborder Hungarians have to tackle in this regard?

Miklós Bakk
We are indeed a nation living in its language, and that is most visible on the edges: the “stepping out” from our Hungarian identity starts with abandoning, then eventually finishes with losing our mother tongue. We, Hungarians, are not the only ones facing this problem in Central and Eastern Europe, but our peculiarity is in the unity of the Hungarian language, or – as sociolinguists like to say – the outstanding grounds on which the standard Hungarian language is built, even though the community using it is politically and regionally scattered. I think that the language-related issues and challenges which Hungarians living in Romania are facing can be understood well only from the above-mentioned perspective. On the one hand, the unity of the Hungarian language and the awareness of this unity are decisive elements of Hungarian national identity, a national ideal. Hungarian cultural institutions in Romania, including educational institutions, were established to keep the standard language in use – that is their main principle behind their operation – whilst, on the “edges,” we are witnessing the deterioration of the language, which goes against this standard. Therefore, one of the main challenges is how to keep the standard use of the Hungarian language within the language borders, in the so-called diaspora. The other challenge is how to expand or complement this linguistic standard – in correlation with the Romanian institutional frame – with a kind of Hungarian language corpus that is still “unprepared”, but its creation is undeniably justified. Although Hungarian is not an official language in Transylvania, there is an official acceptance regarding its rights and use as a native language. Stretching these boundaries is an important task of the whole community, as well as providing the official linguistic framework. This work has already begun, translating the glossary of Romanian judicial and administrative institutions into Hungarian is already in progress, but there is still a lot to be done.

János Fiala-Butora
I consider it a big problem that the current legal framework ensures very few enforceable language rights. Language use is a right in theory, but in practice, its use depends on the bureaucracy. It would be very important to achieve that Hungarian language would also become an official language equal to Slovakian in Southern Slovakia, thereby securing the needed legal guarantees.

Márk Losoncz
When talking about the use of a mother tongue and its challenges, it is important to understand the diversity of the Hungarian community living in Vojvodina. On the one hand, for many who live in scattered areas of the country, there is barely, if any, opportunity to receive education in the Hungarian language. Many nostalgically view Hungarian as the “language of the ancestors”, and for many assimilation was not a free choice, it was rather caused by external factors. As I wrote in another article, the situation is different for those who live in communities with Hungarian majority or in areas where it is still possible to withdraw to their own etnic “microverse”. They face different kinds of challenges, especially the youth: the very bad or non-existing knowledge of the Serbian language. This deep disturbance in the language integration can have a great impact on career opportunities and everyday interaction as a Serbian citizen. Day by day, different difficulties regarding the minority language occur, connected for example to its use in administration, inscriptions, and in public service. If we take a look at the legal dispute which emerged regarding the entrance exam at the Faculty of Law in Novi Sad (first it seemed that the Hungarian students cannot take the entrance exam in their mother tongue, now it looks like that, after that, they will have to take a Serbian language test as well) is a good indicator of the variety of problems that may arise. The enormous damages generated in the Milošević era are more or less resolved, but the situation is still far from perfect. And we still didn’t talk about other areas of life that are not regulated by the country, such as the lack of two-language names of shops in municipalities with Hungarian ethnic majority e. g. Temerin or Bečej. Can we imagine that, 50 years ago, the main question was whether the minority languages – as the so-called languages of the environment – should be obligatory to learn?

 

AJKC: How can education support the preservation of Hungarian identity and the Hungarian community itself?

Miklós Bakk
As mentioned above, regarding the preservation of linguistic standards, education is of key importance when it comes to preserving our identity. This is well-known among the public, and also proved by various research and sociological surveys. The “stepping out” from the ethnic-national community can happen at different stages of our life: choosing the school we attend, our partner etc. – this can be clearly observed and documented. Moreover, the Hungarian educational system has some basic problems due to which it cannot effectively maintain its above mentioned role. One issue is that the language and literacy standards are not able to keep up with the challenges that are present in the diaspora. The main challenge is that most of the children who are educated in Hungarian in Romania are bilingual, and, in many families, Romanian is the dominant language. Taking this into consideration, schools should provide some sort of language strengthening, whilst at the same time the education system is based on the knowledge transfer of the standard native language. Ergo, some kind of differentiation is needed in the diaspora. The other problem arises simply from the size of the minority community on the local level. The minority situation disables the Hungarian school system to act horizontally – for example in a city environment – and to give the same education possibilities which are available in the majority school system. That is why identity and language preservation is at a disadvantage when professional aspects and market competition come into play.

János Fiala-Butora
The Hungarian education system is the basic condition of the persistence of the Hungarian community in Slovakia. Without education in Hungarian, the Hungarian language and culture would disappear very fast. It is, therefore, vital to improve the quality of education. The Hungarian education functions in a competitive environment, there are Slovak schools almost everywhere. Parents will choose Hungarian schools, if it offers good-quality education.

Márk Losoncz
In my opinion, regional consciousness should play a more important role in preserving identity. Reinforcing national consciousness does not necessarily entail a sense of belonging to the Vojvodina region. For example, during my high school years, my perception of Syrmia changed completely after I learned that the Hussites made the first known Hungarian Bible translation (back then, this information was very useful for my rebellious and critical perception of Hungarians living in Vojvodina). I read about it in the book by Imre Bori entitled Man, landscape, history, but also in the book entitled Sources to the history of Délvidék, both focusing on us, Hungarians, from Vojvodina. If I had read it in some other publication on the general history of Hungarian language, maybe I wouldn’t have even noticed this. In this area, which was depopulated over and over again due to different conflicts, the development of historical consciousness and self-awareness demand an extra effort.

 

AJKC: What are the effects of emigration on the Hungarian communities in the neighbouring countries?

Miklós Bakk
The emigration is affecting the whole Romanian society. As a matter of fact, the demographic situation in Romania is one of the worst in Europe. In the 90s, emigration affected mostly Hungarians from Transylvania, but today it affects both the Romanian and Hungarian community in the country. In fact, currently the former is more affected, but it still has a great impact on the latter as well. This is accompanied by all the challenges which the aging Hungarian society in Transylvania is facing. Nevertheless, this question should rather be examined in a broader, regional context. What modernisation opportunities will Székely Land have? What should be done in the interest of the ever-shrinking South Transylvanian youth? To this questions, various public policy answers are needed. While in Székely Land there are some public policy instruments for preventing youth emigration – or bringing them back home, – these opportunities are not present in other regions. To be more specific, those opportunities and solutions are missing which would be acceptable for the public. There was, for example, a scandal around the idea by Jenő Szász to create a so-called “Pearl-diving program” which aimed to “rescue” the talented youth living in diaspora and to move them to more developed regions with Hungarian majority. This certainly blew a fuse… At the same time, sociologist examining the sustainability of education institutions in diaspora are also making careful suggestions in the direction of the so-called “planned exit” program…

János Fiala-Butora
So far, I do not think that the situation is dramatic, but it’s a fact that a proportionally bigger number of people from younger generations live or study abroad than ten years ago. The economic development is encouraging in these days, hopefully the number of those moving abroad will decrease. Some of the regions are more affected by these problems today, mainly in Gömör (Gemer) and the Eastern parts, while the Western parts are less affected.

Márk Losoncz
It has a devastating effect. And it is hard to interpret it as a form of resistance that could have serious political effects with regard to those who are left behind. In some municipalities, emigration is not so obvious, but in others, it has a shocking effect on the whole community. Interestingly, the current emigration could be compared with the one that occurred a century ago. The reasons for emigration are various, from the feeling of “a minority existence unworthy of a man” to deep-rooted economic challenges. These issues cannot be treated with the pathos of „Here you must live and die!” – this parole cannot be applied to these issues. Based, for example, on the Irish approach, we should try to institutionalise and systematize the process of keeping in contact with the diaspora.

 

AJKC: Do young people who left for the better return home? Why it is worth for them to return? What kind of challenges do they have to face? What kind of examples do you see in your surroundings?

Miklós Bakk
I do not have statistical data on the returning young people. I can only speak from my own perception. On the one hand, the majority of young people go abroad with the intention to come home once they have achieved their financial goals. They need this financial background for building, rebuilding their life at home. On the other hand, there are the young scientists. In their case – as I see it – the motivation to come home is even stronger, but at the same time, for them, it is even harder to create the right conditions.

János Fiala-Butora
For many people, moving abroad is not the final step. I have some acquaintances who have lived broad for a shorter or longer period of time, then returned home with their degrees and work experience. When it comes to successful reintegration, family and friends are given, which, in many cases, is the main reason to move home. But those who do not reach their economic goals often move again. And those who start their families abroad move home very rarely, as their partner has no connection to here.

Márk Losoncz
From experience I can say that most of them just come to visit, but do not move back home. But I think it would be of great importance to make an authentic and thorough study regarding this question which would be transparent and available for the public, and not only for the political elite.

 

AJKC: Is there, and if yes, in which areas, cooperation with Hungarian minority communities living in other countries? Can you mention some examples?

Miklós Bakk
I think that this is a very easy question to answer: yes, the European room for manoeuvre, the modern internet society, and, after the regime change, the well-known quotation from József Antall, his attitude as a prime minister, developed a Hungarian political philosophy that enabled cooperation between Hungarian communities living in different countries. However, I think that it is important for this cooperation to be based on realistic, direct interests and recognitions, and not to be motivated by the wish to please and legitimize Hungarian politics.

János Fiala-Butora
Regarding politics, there is good cooperation between political parties, and there are also examples of exchange of experience in the civil sphere. For example, the movement Bilingual Southern Slovakia cooperates with the Muszáj-Musai association in Cluj. But tourism is also more and more popular, so are visiting other Hungarian territories for cultural reasons or relations between sister towns. The Csíksomlyó pilgrimage is visited by a lot of Hungarians from Slovakia.

Márk Losoncz
The Hungarian community in Vojvodina is very Budapest-oriented, therefore, there is not really an opportunity for direct cooperation with Hungarians living in other countries. But there are some micro-relationships. I will give you one example. Péter Vataščin is an anthropologist from Slovakia who came to Subotica through Pécs to dive into, among other things, the relationships within the Hungarian community in Vojvodina. Péter, being a nomad himself, is yet again very attached to Slovakia as he became a researcher of the Forum Minority Research Institute. In reality, it means that, in Slovakia, he can distribute different social research results (which are originally achieved in Hungarian or Serbian language), report about books published and conferences organised in Belgrade and Novi Sad etc. – which is quite unique in the region. I think this is a great example of how individuals can sometimes be more proactive and go beyond institutional or accustomed boundaries.

 

AJKC: Who is your personal Hungarian role model from the minority communities? Why s/he?

Miklós Bakk
I do not have a role model, I can only talk about inspiring examples. As the years passed, the Transylvanian realpolitik tradition became more and more valuable for me, from – let’s say – Gábor Bethlen to Miklós Bánffy. Of course, I do not want to exaggerate this thought, because, as we all know, István Bibó’s false realism can also lead down a false path. Let me give an example: I can place Béla Markó and his era in the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség, RMDSZ) in this realpolitik timeframe, but I still think that Markó made a strategic mistake. What mistake? Well, after the regime change, the Hungarian political representation was performed in a badly established institutional-public policy structure, to which Markó didn’t have a critical approach. In fact, he was constantly strengthening and legitimizing this structure in which – in the beginning – certain problems could have been solved. Of course, it is highly probable that he also could not have changed that structure, but the fact that creating public law opportunities were missed – well the consequences of this are felt as well.

János Fiala-Butora
It is a hard question, but maybe Károly Tóth, Former Director of Forum Institute, who has recently passed away. He organised the domestic civil sphere humbly, from the background, with a lot of work, and he did it without creating enemies, he had good relations with representatives of all sides. It’s not a small achievement.

Márk Losoncz
I would rather refer to an impulse that goes beyond generations, a magazine called New Symposion. My work is greatly influenced by its heritage; its avant-gardism, its linguistic freedom, its cosmopolitism carefully combined with the particularity of our community, the mythology that surrounds it (whether false or counter-mythologies), its embeddedness in the Yugoslavian cultural streams, its re-emerging social criticism, and its openness to philosophy, contrary to the mostly non-philosophical Hungarian culture. Nevertheless, Symposionists could act in moments and periods of grace – their work is unrepeatable.

 

AJKC: Whose works are you reading from the transborder Hungarian literature right now?

Miklós Bakk
Unfortunately, in recent years, I have seldom read Transylvanian literature. I have to admit that I had an overall look and comprehension about this literature only until the nineties. Since then, my professional work has absorbed all my reading time. Earlier I favoured the historical pieces of Transylvanian prose. I would recommend Rock falls into dropping well by István Szilágyi and the A sátán labdái book series written by Gyula Szabó, which is one of the most difficult literary works, but it is worth the effort… Back in the days, I was also very fond of Attila Vári’s experiments. In my opinion, his piece entitled The medieval tram ticket is one of the forgotten treasures of Transylvanian literature, a unique experiment in creating some kind of a magical realism. Nowadays, I would read Székely writers, such as Attila György, Vince Fekete, and others… if I had enough time for reading literature.

János Fiala-Butora
I am reading Lajos Grendel’s Bukott Angyalok (Fallen Angels – not an official translation) right now. But I am very curious about Kati Durica’s A rendes lányok csendben sírnak (Good Girls Cry in Silence – not an official translation), which I am about to start.

Márk Losoncz
We have a research group which is currently exploring the ideological and political aspects of the Hungarian community from Vojvodina in the period between 1945 and 1989. I am focusing on the work of Ferenc Bodrogvári, one of the rare Hungarian philosophers in Vojvodina in the period before the eighties. Currently, I am also reading Pál Böndör’s poetry, Tibor Várady's documentary prose, and Mária Vasagyi's historical fiction. I often go back to Árpád Kocsis's novelette and other works, Zoltán Danyi's novel (and his analyses on Hamvas), Aaron Blumm’s (Gábor Virág) short proses or Miklós Benedek’s, Tímea Bíró’s and Terék Anna's poetry.

 

AJKC: If a young person from Hungary would like to become familiar with the music scene of transborder Hungarian communities, who would you recommend?

Miklós Bakk
I am very indecisive regarding this question, I do not really follow current Transylvanian music. I did, however, have the chance to meet young performers: through family connections, I got in touch with the Szempöl band, as well as with Universal Pleasure Factory group, but that was not enough to get a bigger picture about the whole music scene. The music genres which I prefer – folk music and the combination of folk and different retro-trends – is not really present in Transylvania.

János Fiala-Butora
I am more familiar with the music life of ten years ago, and then I would recommend Rómeó Vérzik and KonfliktA. Out of the music bands today, I would say Hope Red and Jóvilágvan. But, of course, Ghymes is unavoidable.

Márk Losoncz
I don’t know if we can talk about a “music scene in Vojvodina”, but if we can, then I would definitely recommend songs performed by István Domonkos. Regarding current music trends, I find the work of Szilárd Mezei very exciting.

 

AJKC: Which is your favourite local cultural event related to the Hungarian community?

Miklós Bakk
I am interested in small, local Székely events, for example, I like to visit St. George's Day events, or the Őszi Sokadalom festival in Târgu Secuiesc. Of course, the Hungarian Cultural Days of Cluj are interesting for me as well.

János Fiala-Butora
It is definitely the Gombaszög Summer Camp. It has become a very serious event in the past few years, it is worth visiting.

Márk Losoncz
First of all, I would like to mention two places: The Klein House Social Bar* and Art Gallery in Subotica and the Youth Center CK13 (Crna kuća) in Novi Sad. They are continuously offering a wide variety of quality events. I am a regular visitor of Dombos Remix, a literary event, part of the Dombos Fest in Mali Iđoš. Also, I often visit literary evenings and exhibitions organised by the Híd Kör literary community. Being a resident of the Temerin municipality, I follow the program and events of the Temerin Cultural House and I also visit TAKT (Temerin Creative and Fine Arts Camp).

* Unfortunately, the Klein House is not open at the moment, but will hopefully continue its activities from 2019.

 

AJKC: How do you see the Hungarian community in your country in the next 5 or 10 years?

Miklós Bakk
If we look at the numbers, it is a diminishing community, but there is still hope. I see opportunities in regional development, the chance of living in a way that will be beneficial for the people of Székelyföld and Partium.

János Fiala-Butora
I do not expect dramatic changes. I expect a kind of slow development that almost seems like there is no progress made at all. I hope that we will have a united political representation in ten years, and that finally we will be able to participate in governance in accordance with our influence. And I hope that, by that time, there will be an honest discussion within the Hungarian community, and also with the Slovak majority, about what could guarantee the equality and persistence of Hungarians in Slovakia, as well as the constitutional and legal framework needed for this.

Márk Losoncz
In 2017, I had the privilege to open the Remembering Holocaust event in the Novi Sad Synagogue. Once I got to the podium, a shiver run down my spine – from there, you can really dive into the space of this colossal building, and sense how many people used to be there on a regular Shabbat service. Today, we can only sense their absence. Just a few blocks away from the Synagogue, there is the place where the Armenian Church used to stand. On my way home to Temerin, in Bački Jarak I can see the houses where Germans used to live (most of them were expelled, or died in death camps at the end of World War II). In these moments, I have the feeling that one day Hungarians living in Vojvodina will also become just a memory of long gone days (not in 5 or 10 years, but soon). Sometimes I wonder how we can prepare for that – can we even prepare for it? Of course, in my utopistic moments, some other ideas come to my mind: that some unexpected miracle will happen, some kind of East European emancipation and transformation. But, then I fall back into apathy. Luckily, I am not a politician whose professional responsibility is to be an optimist.