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May 25, 2022

A challenge in four perspectives

Hungarians in Romania are now applying for Hungarian citizenship as a second one, because they will keep the Romanian citizenship as well. This is how the law was put together by the centre-right government of Hungary and the Romanian government has not opposed it as its Slovakian counterpart did by passing its own law banning double citizenship. There are four points of view from which the matter can be looked at.

In Hungary, the law on double citizenship is one of the fruits of the rhetoric of current ruling party FIDESZ, combining a conservative nationalism with the theme of denouncing the effects of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, again seen as a national historic trauma (Hungary then lost two thirds of its territory). The Hungarian case is a special one in Europe, the nation having the most numerous presence as an ethnic minority (the one in Romania holds the absolute European record) in states neighbouring the ‘mother-country’.

For this reason, in political debates in Hungary, the question of Hungarians living outside the Hungarian borders it’s not just a theme of foreign policy. To FIDESZ, the term of ‘popular’ has complex connotations, ranging from its European ideological affiliation (PM Viktor Orban is also vice-president of EPP) to the support of traditional culture (Transylvanian folk dance clubs, for example, have been centres of influence for its politics over the years), from the emphasis falling on matters with a symbolic impact to the detriment of pragmatic things to the style of populist propaganda. The long-standing debate in Hungary, starting from the controversial ‘law on the status of Hungarian living outside Hungary’s borders’ (the product of the same party, passing through a failed referendum on the double citizenship (with the Socialist government’s position turning out to be crucial at the time), has raised the issue of the ramifications of a political move giving symbolic satisfaction and bringing concrete disadvantages. The polemic was over the perverse character of the law which starts from the wish of determination of a Hungarian nation in the region but encourages emigration de facto and, by that, demographic changes. Apart from the negative birth-to-death ratio among Hungarians (a report indicating that was worrying UDMR ten years ago), caused by diverse reasons (a traditional family crisis, contraception, economic migration), the temptation of moving to Hungary for good, with the associated advantages (better pay, fast cultural integration, social facilities), enhances the Hungarian demographic decline (in Cluj, for example, the drop little below 20 per cent at some point blocked the official bilingual signposting). More critical, the Hungarian Socialists warn about the budget imbalance coming with the inclusion of co-nationals into the Hungarian social security system, as well as labour market variations (currently unemployment is over 10 per cent). The double citizenship law adopted last year grants no social rights or right to vote. It is also true that the debate is still going on and that future constitutional revisions (planned for the spring) could change the current situation (only people who will establish their permanent residence in Hungary will be allowed to vote; a small locality in Hungary has already offered to grant residence en masse, which makes the original spirit of the law look rather derisive).

To Hungarians in Romania, the double citizenship brings few practical advantages. Some of them are the easier access to the US and Canada or the lack of labour restrictions in some of the EU member states that are more prudent when dealing with Romanian citizens. Another benefit, in our opinion, is the more ‘honourable’ status as a Hungarian compared to being Romanian, useful when applying for international positions. In other words, Romania’s still not complete ‘European’ situation (compared to Hungary) extends for a while the aura of advantages offered by its neighbour. But they, too, confirm the scepticism of the law’s opponents who only see it as raising migration. But Hungarian ethnics in Romania are also considering possible future political advantages which are not yet very clearly pictured. Anyway, under the umbrella of the kin-state in a stricter legal formula, Hungarians will become an even more important item on Hungary’s political agenda and, why not, even on the EU’s. By that, the rhetoric of ethnic identity can come out strengthened after a period of a certain degree of stagnation (after obtaining a broad set of rights related to the mother tongue, education and implicit cultural autonomy).

To the Romanian government and political community, this is a chess game moment. Itself giving citizenship to Moldovans and Bokovinians, Romania could not have opposed without becoming ridiculous. Hungarian officials even speculated with satisfaction on that particular aspect, confessing they had inspired from the Romanian legislation in the field. With their hands tied, Romanian politicians had to renounce the classic panicked reaction specific to the past. At a more practical level, the double citizenship does not drive major domestic political changes, especially with UDMR being a reliable ally of Romanian governments of various doctrines. Realism has gained supremacy in the last decade, minimising the more rhetoric impact of the FIDESZ governments’ actions.

From the altitude of European institutions, the issue is the change of perspective on citizenship. While the EU is founded on the concept of sovereignty partly conceded by the member states, the forms of trans-national political responsibility continue to be unusual, purely experimental and not constitutionally legitimised. Is the EU capable of taking in such new rules? Is the EU interested in rolling them out or the intention is just to tolerate a phenomenon it believes to be particular?

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