Transborder Hungarian Perspectives

Transborder Hungarian Perspectives

Media

01/2019  | Reading time: 11 minutes

The Antall József Knowledge Centre conducted a series of interviews during 2018 to analyse the perspectives of transborder Hungarian communities and study the most important issues related to their everyday life. In this part of our series we asked representative of the Slovak, Transylvanian, and Vojvodina Hungarian minority media about their communities, the importance of maintaining the native language, what books they read, and what is their favourite cultural event. The questions were answered by Márk Finta, editor and anchor at Radio Pátria, and founder and editor of trafik.sk (Slovakia); Zsófia Szerda, journalist, Hét Nap magazine (Serbia); and István Ambrus, journalist at Transindex, co-worker of Radio Cluj (Romania).

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?

Márk Finta:
There is always a strange feeling in me when someone asks me to answer this question. The use of the mother tongue is indeed an important element of Hungarian identity and the existence of the community, but its role is not exclusive at all. I often meet people who identify themselves as Hungarians and as members of the Hungarian community. However, they rarely speak Hungarian, and it is perceptible from their language use. Yet, their broken Hungarian words sound better than those who are ostentatiously Hungarians and use this to shut themselves out. Naturally, if we understand this as a technical question, then using the Hungarian language every day has a lot of barriers in our region, with the most important of them being disinterest. Although possibilities are ensured by a—not that good—regulation, people do not put too much energy into using of these rights, neither in case of politicians, nor everyday citizens. Something has changed: people have become pragmatic, practical, and, in a lot of cases, opportunist. Sometimes I feel that the world is passing by us, and we are stuck in a provincial quagmire.

Zsófia Szerda:
Vojvodina is a very diverse and exciting region. We, who are lucky to be living here, could easily learn up to three languages (Hungarian, our mother tongue, Serbian, the official language of the country, and English or German, which we should know at least on a basic level in 2018). This situation can only be beneficial for us. But, as I see it, the reality is that people who live in municipalities with a Hungarian ethnic majority speak very bad Serbian (or do not speak it at all), whilst some who live in other parts of Serbia tend to assimilate. Both situations are problematic. We should pay more attention to our mother tongue and the way we use it. Nowadays, national identity is often radicalised, which goes hand in hand with intolerance towards other nations. We have to be open to other cultures and ethnicities living among us, and build our Hungarian identity, but, at the same time, accept others. For this to happen, it is important to get familiar with our folklore, folk music and dance, our tradition, read a lot in Hungarian, go to the theatre and to various cultural events, and speak fluent Hungarian. This is not an easy task, especially in communities where only few Hungarians live, but it is not impossible. The role of parents, teachers, kindergartens, and schools is also very important. The problem is that, in many cases, the parents speak bad Hungarian. I am not talking about the different pronunciations (for example, I really love the beautiful dialect of Hungarians living in the Banat region), but the grammatically incorrect use of the language. You ask me about challenges, but what I talk about can be viewed also in a positive outlook (challenge is for me a positive word. If we conquer it, that makes us stronger. If not, we gather strength and try again).

István Ambrus:
Regarding the use of the mother tongue, the situation has improved in the last few decades, mostly because of the change in the Romanian narrative towards the Hungarian minority. We hear more often how important multiculturalism is—regardless of the fact that most of the Romanian politicians have a different opinion. This enabled a freer use of the Hungarian language in public places, although most of the official administrative procedures are still conducted in the Romanian language. One of the challenges is to change this approach, which would also contribute to the further recognition of the Hungarian community by the Romanian government. The next challenge is developing and maintaining a nonpartisan Hungarian minority media in Transylvania, which would also facilitate the use of the Hungarian language. Recently, advertisements of multinational companies also appear more frequently in the Hungarian language. Education is the number one challenge: how to preserve the use of the Hungarian language in schools with Hungarian majority.

 

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

Márk Finta:
My point of departure is everyday examples and experiences, and it appals me when certain teachers mix the healthy Hungarian identification with one-bit nationalism and chauvinism. However, there are plenty of examples of the latter, who poison young minds that could become members of a developing, open and healthy community, but they will not become so, only easily suggestible errant troublemakers. Luckily, there are examples when teachers take their profession seriously, and navigate young people into the right direction, teach them critical thinking, and it has some results—but not enough. The definition of community existence is quite loose in our region. I daresay that there is no unified, definable Hungarian community in Slovakia. There are micro-communities: political communities, cultural communities, professional communities, where, of course, everybody knows each other, live their lives and fight their battles—and make use of use young people, but unfortunately in less cases. A lot of open and intelligent young people is not willing to dive into this above-mentioned provincial quagmire and they try their luck somewhere else—abroad, or in Slovak circles. If Hungarian environment in Slovakia was healthy, and showed the picture of a developing community, maybe it would be different. But as things are right now, sooner or later everything will fade into oblivion.

Zsófia Szerda:
A modern, strong education system would solve a lot of things. But first of all, we need good teachers, because if the teacher is not enthusiastic, the pupils/students will not be either. And if they continuously hear that they could receive a better quality education abroad, then eventually they will leave to study in these better schools with better teachers. But I am not that familiar with the Serbian education system—I studied abroad myself—that’s why I wouldn’t go deeper into analysing this topic. Nevertheless, I do think a good teacher is of key importance.

István Ambrus:
Hungarian identity is mostly shaped and preserved through education, thereby developing a deeper feeling of belonging to a given community. Examples show that assimilation is bigger among Hungarian children who attend primary school in the Romanian language than among those who finish it in the Hungarian language. Besides lexical and other competences, education in the native language has a community-building role as well, which can establish deep personal connections between Hungarian students, a so-called social network that can also be a decisive factor when it comes to questions of whether they should stay or emigrate. This is also the case regarding higher education in the Hungarian language, which is an important strategic pillar in the community-building process. First and foremost, it is about developing a sense of attachment and loyalty towards the Hungarian community that is only possible if—besides education in the native language—people can really comprehend the situation of the Hungarians living in Romania. The next stage of this process is to accept this identity, and be able to contribute to preserving it, both as an individual and as part of the community. It is a set of decisions which also shape the time and spatial cycles of the Hungarian community, and its dynamic can be sustained only through the right to learn in the Hungarian language within an internationally competitive Romanian educational network. Education not only advocates, but is the most important element of forming and preserving Hungarian consciousness.

 

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

Márk Finta:
In my environment, emigration is not that visible, the majority of people stick to their homes and homeland. A lot of people, of course, emigrate: some of them try their luck in the Czech Republic or Hungary, and they often stay there. But it can also be considered as emigration when young people try to succeed in a Slovak environment, and they cross the glass wall between Slovaks and Hungarians erected by paradoxes and misunderstandings. There is a need for them, but the fact that they leave is totally understandable, and, when they have to return for some reasons, they look at us with dislike.

Zsófia Szerda:
It has fatal effects on the community, but we, who decided to stay, should not whine about it all day long. As Mihály Babits said “It will be somehow because it has never been, not to be at all”.

István Ambrus:
Emigration is probably an even bigger problem in Romania than in Hungary. This could be facilitated, or hindered by different social phenomena in addition to education. Especially in communities with Hungarian majority, a recurring problem is the inadequate knowledge of the Romanian language—in contrary to the knowledge of world languages. This can prevail in situations when one should decide whether or not to stay in the homeland, or seek job opportunities abroad. Taking into account the situation and different social aspects of the national minority, many choose the second option. Regarding the Hungarian community in Romania, as a result of this, there is an ever growing tendency of planning the future abroad, most of the people emigrating from Transylvania and Partium seek out the East-Central European region to achieve individual success. The consequences are similar to the population decrease experienced in Hungary.

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

Márk Finta:
Of course, some of them return because they see a potential in living here. They either see practical or theoretical potentials. And luckily enough, sometime it also happens that they have good ideas, and they can make negative tendencies positive. But, unfortunately, it is rare.

Zsófia Szerda:
I think they do not just go to try their luck—like the poor boy from the fairy tale—but they deliberately choose to go seeking better education, higher salaries, or just because they had enough of the circumstances we have here. And they do not really come back. For example, if you finish your university studies in another country, it is more likely that you will continue your life there, find a job, a partner, etc. And, meanwhile, what you see at home: chaotic situation in the state, low salaries (if your washing machine dies, you have to live on potatoes for a week just to have enough money to buy a new one), there is a shortage of normal job opportunities, the majority around you is depressed, lethargic, less and less people visit cultural events (that is somewhat the main problem), and there is a political-party-dependent selection regarding jobs and other opportunities. To see the light at the end of the tunnel, one should have a great sense of humour, irony, and cynicism. And then you see everything a little brighter. Where there is a will, there is a way, and then you can easily live on the North Pole as well as in Mali Iđoš. Why is it worth coming back? Because home is here. I cannot come up with a better argument. What challenges do they face? Well, I could talk a lot about that, but as I already mentioned above, we should not be afraid of a little challenge. I see examples—and for me that is already a good sign—that many of my friends move a little bit closer to Vojvodina, they tend to live and work in both places. If we forget about the country borders, we could say that they are just around the corner, living in the neighbouring city.

István Ambrus:
The reasons for coming back home differ from person to person. They can be found in different material and social factors. In my experience, friends from Székelyföld and Cluj-Napoca who moved abroad seldom come back. People who have lived a longer period of their life abroad start to get detached from the problems and social roles which they had before they emigrated. As time passes, the chances for them to find the necessary motivation and come back home are getting smaller. In this context, the challenges they are facing remain practically unchanged.

 

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

Márk Finta:
Certainly, there is. When I was a teenager, I attended a lot of meetings and camps organised for young minority Hungarians—these are among the best memories of my life. This is the reason why I consider the problems and fate of these communities to be my own. From a professional point of view, as a journalist I always like to contact my colleagues in Vojvodina or Transylvania, and I am glad that, although their situation is not better than ours, there are still excellent professionals, who keep up the good work.

Zsófia Szerda:
As far as I know, there is, of course. A lot. Various organisations and institutions seek partners from other Hungarian communities to apply together for different projects. The fields where I am most certain there is cooperation, is theatre, literature, folklore, environmental protection, and cultural heritage. But I am sure there is a collaboration in other fields as well, such as business, economy, tourism, etc. I would also mention the Petőfi Sándor and Kőrösi Csoma Sándor scholarship programmes.

István Ambrus:
There is, both on the institutional and political level. There are good examples of cooperation and mutual support between some non-governmental organisations from Transylvanian and Zakarpattia Oblast. Resolving national policy questions and issues conducted by the Hungarian government results in greater cooperation on the political level, as the problems of Hungarians living beyond the borders are similar in many cases. The aims and aspiration of nation states and extremist nationalist are also similar in the surrounding countries, so in preventing it, specific methods can be developed that can be equally applied for Hungarians living in Serbia, Romania, or Ukraine. Apart from these, there is usually no cooperation with Hungarian communities living in other countries because of the geographical and cultural distance. The problems and challenges for Hungarians living in Hungary are very specific, so are that of those living in Romania. It is a strange dualism which can mostly be seen through cultural differences between the two Hungarian communities. We speak the same language, we share the same culture and history, but we still perceive our Hungarian identity differently, depending on which nation state we live in.

 

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

Márk Finta:
This question is terribly hard. I do not like to turn to the past, however, we cannot be proud of our current situation either. Maybe those Hungarian journalists in Slovakia are my role models, who stayed trustworthy in these circumstances.

Zsófia Szerda:
I do not have one. There are people who I admire for their qualities, such as courage, endurance, way of thinking, sense of humour, or helpfulness, but I do not idolize anyone of them. Anyways, if we are constantly following a role model, we cannot develop as individuals and find our own way. During childhood, it is not so bad to have a role model, for example I wanted to be börek seller—they always fascinated me. But, then, if a child does something wrong, they usually say “You see? … (the name of the role model) would surely do that better.” After some time, the role model starts to go on our nerves, and later we just say, ok, it is enough, we should let it go. I can be a fan of different individuals, especially artists, but I do not want to be like them. We should follow values and not people, and values are built from different inputs that we get from our environment and experience.

István Ambrus:
My personal Transylvanian role models are Károly Kós, Áron Márton, and Márton Moyses because, during the hardest times, they showed an example to the Hungarians living in Romania that should be followed today. Károly Kós created a unique Transylvanian–Hungarian architecture glossary, Áron Márton showed how to resist a totalitarian regime through the church, and Márton Moyses was a Transylvanian revolutionist, who lost his life fighting against the dictatorship guided by the spirit of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. All of them are an example of how they served the Transylvanian Hungarian community—each with their own means and possibilities. Their life path and system of values show us even today what can be done for the Hungarian identity, how we should take responsibility and be responsible for our community, not only verbally, but also in action. Their examples show us that we should stand our ground even in the most difficult situations, because giving up our community and our culture equals to denying ourselves.

 

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

Márk Finta:
I often return to the book of our Madách-award-winning writer, Antal Fülöp, entitled Piszkos ember. This book describes excellently the reality of my hometown, Komárom (Komárno). However, the name of the city is not mentioned in the book. I also like to read the works of József Gazdag and Zoltán Szalay.

Zsófia Szerda:
Currently, I am trying to read more than in the previous period when I did not have time. At the moment, on the top of all books in my desk there is my dear friend’s, Orsolya Bencsik’s book: Több élet.

István Ambrus:
Currently, I am reading works by István Szilágyi.

 

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

Márk Finta:
I am not really a big fan of Hungarian music in Slovakia, I like more underground music. But we have excellent artists, for instance the opera singer, Titusz Tóbisz.

Zsófia Szerda:
Huh. Maybe Felix Lajkó, Fokos bands, then the Sin Seekas, and my dear brother Szerda Árpád, or Sjaj & I, Árpád Bakos, Iskon, etc. Or a good Vojvodina wedding party. J My grandfather used to sing Hungarian folk songs, I like them too, for me, they are also part of the Vojvodina lifestyle.

István Ambrus:
The FUNKorporation which is a band from Cluj-Napoca.

 

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

Márk Finta:
I used to like the Gombaszög Summer Camp (Gombaszög Nyári Tábor) and I still like it, but politics got in the way, and it is not like as it was before. But the organisers are still holding themselves. Another favourite event of mine is the Jókai Days (Jókai Napok) amateur theatre festival, which is older than a half of a century, and despite all of its bigger and smaller faults, it is irreplaceable.

Zsófia Szerda:
The Windmill Festival (Malomfesztivál) is an event I organise together with a group of dear friends, so I would say that this is my favourite. Also among my favourites are Dombos Fest, Desiré Central Station contemporary theatre festival, and European Film Festival Palić (Európai Filmek Palicsi Fesztiválja). I also like to visit the High School Art Competition (KMV), Durindó and Gyöngyösbokréta Festival (Durindó és Gyöngyösbokréta Fesztivál), theatre premiers, literary evenings, exhibitions, and all sorts of other events where people can meet and talk.

István Ambrus:
Hungarian Cultural Days of Cluj (Kolozsvári Magyar Napok).

 

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

Márk Finta:
I do not think it will be much more different from the current situation. Maybe there will be less from everything. There will be less of us in official records, we will have less schools, our independent and free press will disappear, we will publish less books. In the bottom of our hearts, we will know in ten years from now what the problem is and where the mistake was made, but we will still be turning our heads embarrassed, and we will be trying to pretend that the responsibility is in someone else’s hands.

Zsófia Szerda:
Unfortunately, Hungarians will probably disappear from some cities, villages. But in Subotica, Senta, Kanjiža, the now growing Hungarian community will strengthen. That is what my pessimistic side tells me, but the optimist within me thinks that the situation in the country will suddenly get much better, so all those homesick youngsters who live abroad would come back home and repopulate this beautiful region, because they would see a meaning in coming back here, and doing something worthwhile. I love living here, and I think that, if we think as community, we are able to achieve great things. When I say community, I mean a group of people, no matter which ethnicity, religion or anything else they are. As a similar-thinking community who shares the same values. I think this kind of initiatives are already starting to develop (redevelop) at home.

István Ambrus:
The Hungarian community living in Transylvania will still have to face challenges, such as maintaining the educational system, as well as a constant struggle regarding the use of the native language, to make sure that the current situation will not turn worse. The ongoing challenges and problems will be present in the next 5-10 years, but the question is how to improve the current practice and whether there will still be members of the community who will want to carry out these tasks.