Hungarians of Czechoslovakia

Alternative names: Magyars
Location: Slovakia
Population: 590,000
% of population: 3.8%
Religion: Catholic and Protestant
Language: Hungarian

The Hungarians of Czechoslovakia live predominantly in Slovakia, the eastern portion of present-day Czechoslovakia, where they constitute just over 11% of the population. They are descended from the Magyars, known today as the Hungarians, who invaded the Danube basin at the end of the seventh century and made Slovakia part of the Kingdom of Hungary which was later incorporated into the Hapsburg Empire. The defeat of the Hapsburg Empire in World War I and the subsequent 1920 Treaty of Trianon left over one million Hungarians in the new state of Czechoslovakia.

After a harsh period immediately following World War II, conditions for the Hungarian minority improved somewhat during the 1950s and 1960s. The liberalization movement known as the Prague Spring of 1968 resulted in significant improvements in the rights of the Hungarian minority and despite the Soviet-led invasion of August 1968 which crushed this movement, the National Assembly passed the Nationalities Law on 27 October, 1968. This law which is still in operation states that the minorities (the Hungarian minority is the largest, other minorities recognized by the law are: the Germans who reside almost exclusively in the Czech lands and number some 56,000; the Poles numbering some 70,000 also residing in the Czech lands; and the Ukrainian or Ruthenian minority numbering some 48,000 mostly in Slovakia) are represented in proportion to their numbers in representative bodies and other elected organs, and can receive instruction in their own languages and use their languages for official purposes in their own areas as well as having access to the press and media.

Despite these legal guarantees there are frequent complaints of declining educational provisions for Hungarians and the number of Hungarian-language elementary schools has declined from 609 in 1950 to about 280 at the present with only 30 secondary schools and one higher educational institution, a teachers’ training college. According to the Slovak Minister of Education, at the end of the 1970s some 48,000 children studied in Hungarian-language classes while in 1987 the figure was over 50,000. In Eastern and Central Slovakia 50% of Hungarian children attend Hungarian-language schools, while in Western Slovakia the figure is 80%. However only 5-6% of Hungarians in Slovakia apply or gain entry to polytechnics or university and 40-45% of the Hungarian primary and secondary school teachers will retire in Slovakia in the next decade.

The main cultural body for Hungarians is The Cultural Association of Hungarian Working People of Czechoslovakia (CSEMADOK) which has 92,000 members. After the Prague Spring, CSEMADOK was expelled from the National Front, an umbrella body controlled by the authorities, due to having pursued political activities, and was put under direct control of the Slovak Minister of Culture until 1987 when it regained some measure of autonomy. The leading campaigner for Hungarian minority rights within Czechoslovakia is however Miklos Duray, a leader of the Hungarian youth movement during the Prague Spring and spokesman for the unofficial Committee for the Protection of Hungarian Minority Rights, who has frequently been subject to official harassment on account of his activities. Duray led a successful campaign against a proposed measure in November 1983 to curb Hungarian language classes and following this campaign he was arrested and detained for one year before being released following international protest.

(See also Hungarians of Romania; Slovaks of Czechoslovakia)