Key Findings

  • In respect to the stability of the region as a whole and Hungary's relations with its neighbours political risks will not increase significantly due to the preferential (without requiring residency in Hungary) naturalization of ethnic Hungarians living outside state borders.  
  • Political risk will increase in respect to Slovak-Hungarian relations, although the conflict between the two countries cannot be traced simply to the issue of dual citizenship; tensions escalated already last year following the adoption of a Slovak Language Law. While the timing of the Hungarian Parliament may have been ill-advised, in the current election campaign in Slovakia the conflict between the two countries is likely to have intensified even without the issue of dual citizenship.
  • In all areas Fidesz politicians are intent on generating “revolutionary” changes as to create a distance from the previous era. The preferential naturalization of ethnic Hungarians living outside the country is meant to demonstrate a turnaround in foreign policy.
  • In fact, at the level of domestic politics the issue of dual citizenship may come to haunt the forming Fidesz government. The popular appeal of granting citizenship to ethnic Hungarians outside the country is far from being self-evident in Hungary.

 

Low political risks

  • In respect to the stability of the region as a whole, the preferential naturalization of ethnic Hungarians living outside the country will not significantly increase political risk. So far only Slovakia expressed its objection to the draft proposal. Hungary’s other neighbours are unlikely to protest officially and risk the deterioration of bilateral relations. Moreover, a number of countries in the region, such as Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia and in part Slovakia, apply similar citizenship regulations.
  • The preferential naturalization of Hungarians outside of the country does not pose risk from the point of international law, as regulations related to citizenship are considered the internal affairs of each country. This, however, does not mean the Hungarian party does not have the obligation to consult the governments of the involved countries, for ethnic Hungarians living in these countries can only exercise their rights with the consent of the affected states. The forming Hungarian government is aware of this, which explains why foreign minister designate, János Martonyi met with the foreign ministers of Serbia, Croatia, Ukraine, Slovenia and Slovakia before the government’ swearing-in ceremony.
  • While in respect to Slovak-Hungarian relations the political risk is on the rise, the conflict between the two countries cannot be traced simply to the issue of dual citizenship. In this context it was at most unfortunate that the Hungarian Parliament took up the issue of dual citizenship during the election campaign in Slovakia. For quite some time, the intensification of the Slovak-Hungarian conflict can be traced to special conditions in Slovakia’s domestic politics. Robert Fico hopes to divert attention from his government’s fiasco in connection to the EU’s effort to rescue Greece, and to end the coalition with the Jan Slota-led Slovak National Party (SNS) following June’s general elections. However, this is only possible if he manages to outflank SNS and attract his voters with fiercely anti-Hungarian rhetoric. At the same time, the issue of dual citizenship may turn out to be a handicapped for SMER in its race with SNS; the issue could also bring enough votes to the far right party to lift it over the parliamentary threshold and force SMER into another coalition. The new Slovak government’s scope for action may also be greatly limited by the balance of power in the new parliament. Based on the latest public opinion surveys, it is also conceivable (thanks primarily to the resurgence of the Freedom and Solidarity Party) that a unified opposition may defeat SMER, upsetting Fico's strategy concerning SNS.

  • In the current situation ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia may become the biggest victims of the policy of granting dual citizenship to Hungarians living outside Hungary. For one thing, they may become the target of growing anti-Hungarian sentiment fuelled by the reactions of the Slovak government and SNS. On the other hand, their political representation may suffer if Hungarian parties in Slovakia are hamstrung following the elections. The conflict between the two countries may prevent a potential coalition between local Slovak and Hungarian parties.
  • With the economic recovery countries of the region find themselves in a new competition. A protracted conflict may undermine investors’ perception of both Hungary and Slovakia as they could come to the conclusion: in these two countries political issues are determined by ethnic conflicts.

 

Symbolic foreign-policy change

  • In all areas, Fidesz politicians are intent on generating “revolutionary” changes as to develop a distance from the previous era. The preferential naturalization of ethnic Hungarians living outside the country is meant to demonstrate a turnaround in foreign policy. In the interpretation of Fidesz, the measure sends the message that the new government represents, with force, if necessary, national interests in the international arena with more resolve than its predecessors. At the same time, from the point of Fidesz the measure provides a convenient cover for the fact that in respect to the Slovak Language Law it will be just as impotent as its predecessor.
  • Just as in the case of the Language Law, no international forum will pass judgment on the conflict between the two countries concerning their dispute over dual citizenship. Moreover, preferential naturalization based on national law cannot be adjudicated under international law or precedents in other countries. The issue is not regulated by the European Union; instead it has adopted the European Council's 1997 treaty relegating all issues related to citizenship to the domestic affairs of each member state.
  • Aside from international legal considerations, Hungary's foreign position may also be strengthened if neutral/supporting positions will be in the majority among neighbouring countries and the European Union. This may be undermined if Hungary comes to be seen as the party unable to reach a compromise with Slovakia.
  • Looking beyond the issue of dual citizenship, it is yet to be seen what Fidesz’ foreign-policy concept consists of aside from the preferential naturalization of ethnic Hungarians across the border and tough confrontation with Slovakia; the party has yet to provide details of its strategy.

 

Questionable success in the domestic arena

  • At the level of domestic politics the issue of dual citizenship may come to haunt the forming Fidesz government. The popular appeal of granting citizenship to ethnic Hungarians outside the country is far from self-evident in Hungary. Despite an almost universal interpretation, past experience shows that the issue has never generated significant political gains for Fidesz.
  • While according to opinion polls today over 60% of the respondents support the proposed legislation, the consensus is far from unanimous when it comes to details. For instance, according to a recent survey by Medián, only 23% of the respondents support granting the voting right to ethnic Hungarians living outside the country. If, as in 2004, the issue were put to a referendum, the division could be even more pronounced. The referendum held six years ago was invalid due to a low turnout (only 37%), where 51.5% voted for and 48.5% against granting dual citizenship to ethnic Hungarians outside the country, i.e., less than 19% of those eligible to vote considered it important to support the cause.
  • Of course, one of the important differences compared to 2004 is that today no party campaigns against the measure. MSZP merely criticizes the timing of the proposal expressing concern for ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia, and it is still engaged in rearguard action explaining its 2004 referendum campaign. At the same time, Jobbik tries to distinguish itself from Fidesz by demanding that along with citizenship, ethnic Hungarians outside the country be granted the right to vote as well. However, looking at the party’s current support base its initiative may be far from popular as, based on a survey by Medián,  35% of Jobbik voters would not only refuse voting rights but also citizenship for ethnic Hungarians beyond the borders. Fidesz’ haste (going as far as ignoring requests by Hungarian politicians in Slovakia to postpone the issue) can be explained primarily by the party's domestic rivalry with Jobbik.