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April 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 4)
World Press Review correspondent
In the border
shuffling that followed World War I, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia
all lost large portions of their ethnic populations. Since the
Soviet withdrawal, all three countries have tried to fuel economic
growth by attracting their compatriots back, sparking tensions
over political autonomy.
The three are now turning to the establishment of so-called
status laws, which would give members of their ethnic groups
living abroad such perks of citizenship as the right to residence,
work, and property ownership. With a dynamic economy and a large
trans-border population, Hungary threatens to set off a brain
drain within its two neighbors with the implementation of its
law, which went into effect the first of the year.
The Hungarian press has reflected the resulting domestic and
cross-border tensions. Hungarys former Socialist prime
minister, Gyula Horn, was quoted as condemning the measure (Népszabadság,
Jan. 7): The government should modify this screwed-up,
ham-handedly slapped-together law. In Bratislava, Budapests
maneuvers were seen as bullying. Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard
Kukan told Népszavas Zoltan Simon (Feb.
16), It is impossible to reconcile someone flexing his
muscles and saying he wants to negotiate. I cannot accept this.
Raising the specter of ethnic loyalties in the region could
backfire, Tamas Gaspar Miklos predicted in Elet es Irodalom
(Jan. 11): In the offices in the West watching us, the
consensus was quickly arrived at... [that] Hungary is a powder
keg of regional instability.
At least one of Hungarys neighbors has apparently decided
to strike back. On Feb. 7, the Slovak Parliament passed a resolution
opposing implemention of the law on Slovak territory.
The reaction of Hungarys press to the law has been generally
negative. Regarding negotiations with Romania, Imre Bednarik
wrote: Only two people were happy about the lawCorneliu
Vadim Tudor [leader of the Greater Romanian Party] and [Hungarian
Prime Minister] Viktor Orban, and we know the former to be anti-Hungarian
(Népszabadság, Jan. 5).
Passed just before an election year, the legislation has produced
charges that candidates are inciting nationalism for political
gain. [P]arty affiliation is the basic criterion for opinion
on the Status Law, opined Peter Erdelyi in Magyar Hirlap
(Feb. 11). A recent poll found that 78 percent of the ruling
Fidesz Party supports the law, compared with 53 percent of the
opposition Socialist MSZP. Many in Hungary see the debate itself
as dangerous and provocative. Népszavas
Jozsef Szilvassy wrote (Feb. 12) that the Status Law is politically
exceedingly dangerous because the evil spirit of collective
guilt and national autonomy, which has caused so many tragedies,
is seeking resurrection.