|Stephen Borsody: The Hungarians: A Divided Nation|
The Hungarians of Slovakia: From Czechoslovak to Slovak Rule
EDITOR'S NOTE: This chapter is composed from several writings by Kalman Janics both published and unpublished, both in Hungarian and English, as specified in the editor's "Acknowledgments." To arrive at a coherent presentation of the topic from several sources, textual modifications were necessary. The editor alone as responsible for both the textual adjustments and the structure of the chapter as a whole.
Czechoslovakia is a federated socialist republic, consist ing of two nation-states of equal rights: the Czech Sozcialist Republic with a population of over 10 million, and the Slovak Socialist Republic with a population of about 5 million. The census of 1980 found 579,000 Hungarians in Czechoslovakia; all of them are either living in Slovakia or have their ethnic roots there. While the Hungarians make up only 3.8 percent of Czechoslovakia's total population, in Slovakia they amount to a more substantial 12 percent - which is about the same percentage the Slovaks themselves once held (before World War I) in the multinational Kingdom of Hungary.
The Czech lands of Czechoslovakia are largely identical with the territories of the historic kingdom of Bohemia-Moravia. Slovakia, on the other hand, took shape only after World War I with Czech assistance, when Hungary's northern territories were transferred to the
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newly-founded state of Czechoslovakia. The boundaries of Slovakia drawn for the first time in history-placed at that time almost one million Hungarians, living mostly in Slovakia's southern border areas adjacent to Trianon Hungary, under Czechoslovak rule. Czechoslovak sources estimate that, following a drop to 580,000 according to the census of 1930, the Hungarian population in the late 1930s before World War II rose to 630,000.1 At any rate, statistically, the size of the Hungarian minority during the last fifty years or so has not increased, while the Slovak majority population during the same period has more than doubled. Today, of the Danube region's total Hungarian minority of over three million, about one-fifth belongs to Czechoslovakia .
Following the Munich Diktat of 1938, Czechoslovakia's Hungarian-populated territories - as well as some ethnically mixed ones-were returned to Hungary by the Vienna Award. After World War II, with the pre-Munich frontiers restored, some 600,000 Hungarians affected by these boundary changes became again citizens of Czechoslovakia - or, rather, they would have become citizens had the postwar rule of terror against the national minorities under Edvard Benes's restored presidency not deprived them of their citizenship rights.
The Hungarian minority was declared collectively guilty on the grounds of betraying the Czechoslovak state in 1938. In order to justify this charge against the Hungarians, the prewar treatment of minorities in Czechoslovakia was described in glowing terms and considerably embellished. It is true that the minority policy of Czechoslovakia was far more democratic than that of Hungary, Romania, Poland, or Yugoslavia. Yet, the Hungarian minority in Czechoslovakia could never feel entirely free of discrimination. It was primarily in the economic field that the status of second-class citizenship was felt at every step. This discrimination was admitted even by those socalled "activist" minority politicians who supported the Czechoslovak Republic and defended it against hostile attacks from both inside and outside. For instance, in Piest'any, on September 7, 1936, Istvan Csomor, a Hungarian member of the Czechoslovak Agrarian party, presented to Prime Minister Milan Hodza a memorandum detailing the grievances of the Hungarian minority. It read in part:
We have wounds and we are waiting for the curing balm. Grievances have accumulated and these have to be redressed. The Hungarian minority has
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a new home, but that home has no roof yet. A lot remains to be done for the benefit of the Hungarian minority.... Let's see to it that every Hun garian of Czechoslovakia feels at home in his new homeland, that they are free citizens of a free state, the Republic of Czechoslovakia. We have put into wnting the gnevances of the Hungarian minority, its cultural and economic demands. We request that these be given serious consideration. Listen to the words and fulfill our wishes.2
Despite grounds for such grievances, during World War II, and even more so after 1945, the principal charge against the Hungarian minority was its lack of appreciation of its privileges. It was said that, despite "complete" equality in the bourgeois republic, they almost unanimously betrayed the "common fatherland" during the crisis of 1938.
In a nutshell, the interwar story of Czechoslovakia's Hungarian minority is this: The Trianon frontier confronted the Hungarians in Czechoslovakia with two painful realities. They had ceased belonging to a nation whose undisputed authority over other peoples lasted for one thousand years. Suddenly, the former assimilators became an insecure minority in fear of their ethnic survival. The other unpleasant reality was that the Hungarian minority lost some 100,000 of its most valuable members. Voluntary exodus and forced settlement to Hungary deprived the Hungarians of Slovakia of a sizable part of their intelligentsia. The Hungarians never accepted the new order, and the flames of Hungarian nationalism flickered beneath the surface of enforced submission throughout the intenvar period. In 1938, the Hungarians' thin veneer of loyalty to Czechoslovak rule cracked, and they readily participated in the destruction of the Czechoslovak state.
The political climate in the aftermath of World War II was unfavorable to revealing the facts about the prewar minority situation. And ever since, Czechoslovak historiography has failed to evaluate the facts with professional objectivity. On the other hand, several works of progressive Hungarians have pointed out the homeless feelings in prewar Czechoslovakia. For instance, Edgar Balogh, a well known Hungarian Communist in interwar Czechoslovakia, now living in Transylvania, wrote: "The crux of the problem was that this state [Czechoslovakia] was unable to become our fatherland.... We were facing chauvinistic ambitions of the same kind with which, in former times, the Hungarian imperialists have persecuted their minorities."3 Imre Forbath, another Hungarian writer of the same leftist back
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ground, bids goodbye to Czechoslovakia with the same bitter sincerity:
Even the minonty policy of a most democratic bourgeois system [such as prewar Czechoslovakia's] is not free of the ruling class ambition to maintain the hegemony of the ruling nation, to hide the social antagonism of classes behind altificially nurtured racial, national, and other conflicts. The tragic disintegration of the Czechoslovak Republic-albeit its pnncipal cause was certainly the attack of Fascism and the surrender of the bourgeoisie-was also the consequence of its minonty policies. . . . After decades of neglect, not even in the moment of extreme danger, could a greedy and shortsighted ruling clique bnng itself to correcting the situation by a rapid and earnest reform. Thus, not even honest efforts of the best people were able to save the fatherland from the consequences of a mass of cnmes.... In the decisive moment, the large majonty of Czechoslovakia's minonties had left the country in the lurch.4
From Postwar Terror to Socialist Revolution
The present status of Slovakia's Hungarian minority, too, requires a brief historical elucidation. After World War II, there were two important ethnic minorities in Slovakia: the Hungarians and the Germans. The Germans (mostly descendents of medieval settlers) together with their Sudeten German cousins (with whom before Czechoslovakia's foundation they had nothing in common) were singled out as the primary culprits of prewar Czechoslovakia's collapse and punished accordingly. But, in the eyes of the architects of postwar Czechoslovakia's expulsion policy, the Hungarians were not far behind the Germans.
The rule of terror unleashed against the Hungarians was perceived by the Hungarian minority as an unexpected disaster. As the Hungarians saw it, Hungary may have been, as charged, Hitler's "last satellite," but fascist Slovakia under Jozef Tiso's presidency was Hitler's first satellite. Slovakia joined in the war against Poland and preceded Hungary in participating in the Nazi "final solution" of the Jews. In general, Slovakia's record in repressing fundamental freedoms certainly was worse than Hungary's. Also, Slovaks often made life miserable for the small community of Hungarians left in Slovakia after the Vienna Award of 1938, denouncing them as enemies of National Socialism. Remembering Slovakia's dubious wartime record,
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the Hungarians were surprised at suddenly finding the Slovaks sitting in judgment over them during the postwar period. The Hungarians seemed to have forgotten one of the basic lessons of history: losers cannot argue against victors, let alone against the interests of great powers and the accomplished facts of diplomacy.
Thanks to President Benes's wartime diplomacy, the principle of Czechoslovakia's legal continuity absolved the Slovaks as a nation of any guilt for fascist crimes. The Hungarians who retumed under Czechoslovak rule learned to their astonishment that Nazi-allied Slovakia was treated just like the Nazi-occupied Czech lands. President Benes's postwar regime treated with equal hostility the Sudeten Germans and Slovakia's Hungarians. Branded as "fascist," Slovakia's centuries-old Hungarian community was to be liquidated. By virtue of the so-called Kosice Program, the Hungarians (along with the Germans) lost their citizenship rights in liberated Czechoslovakia. A series of decrees issued by President Benes deprived the Hungarians of their cultural rights and made their properties liable to expropriation without compensation. In everyday life, the Hungarians of Slovakia were subjected to humiliations without precedence in Slovak-Hungarian relations.
The ultimate aim of postwar Czechoslovak policy against the Hungarian minority, their expulsion from their homelands, has failed. But during four years of a postwar rule of terror, the Hungarians totally lost their cultural institutions. Their schools were closed, their children coming of school-age remained illiterate. The educated elite either fled or were expelled to Hungary.5
Fo1lowing the Communist takeover in February 1948, beginning with the spring of 1949, Slovakia's Hungarians slowly recovered from the blows of the rule of terror. But it was an arduous process, never successfully completed. They had to reconstruct their cultural base from scratch. It took years for the minority school system to reach even remotely acceptable standards. Also, forced population transfers had wrought irreparable havoc. In the winter of 1946-47, some 45,000 Hungarians were forcibly resettled to the depopulated German Sudetenland in Bohemia as farmhands. After the Communist takeover, many of these deported Hungarians were permitted to return, though not always to their homes which, in the meantime, had been confiscated and allocated to Slovak settlers. Even more harmful was the Hungarian-Czechoslovak population exchange treaty of 1946, forced
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upon Hungary as a part of the Benes plan to liquidate the Hungarian minority. According to that plan, promoted at the Paris Peace Conference, 200,000 Slovaks were to be transferred from Hungary to Slovakia in exchange for the transfer of the same number of Hungarians from Slovakia to Hungary. However, of Hungary's 170,000 Slovaks only about 60,000 opted for resettlement, despite promises of free land and furnished houses. Slovakia's Hungarians were even less willing to leave their homes-only about 6,000 signed up. About 68,000 more were forcibly deported.6 This large exodus shook the Hungarian community to its foundation. Many formerly purely Hungarian villages became mixed communities. Ironically though, in a very few instances, but to the great annoyance of the authorities, Slovak settlers in Hungarian villages soon became assimilated into the Hungarian minority.
The post-World War II settlement policy actually continued the discriminatory trend already apparenl in the post-World War I agrarian policy, only more radically. The Flrst Czechoslovak Republic, too, had settled Slovak peasants on formerly Hungarian-owned land in order to push the Slavic ethnic boundary line ever more southward toward Hungary. In general, of course, conditions under the first democratic republic were incomparably better than after World War II. About 90 percent of the Hungarian children attended primary schools in their mother tongue.' The Hungarian historical establishment collapsed, but culturally the Hungarians continued to maintain a highly developed organization of their own in all fields. There were justifiable grievances, the lack of a Hungarian university foremost among them. Only a gesture had been made to fill that gap: the founding of the Masaryk Academy in the 1930s by a personal gift from President T. G. Masaryk. In general, however, economically the discrimination was more glaring and affected many more people. In economic terms, the Hungarians were definitely treated as second-class citizens. Official statistics reveal the facts. For instance, according to the 1930 census, among a thousand employed people there were 181.8 poor Slovak laborers who belonged to the truly proletarian segment of the working class. The Hungarian ratio was 245.5 out of a thousand. The corresponding figures for the more desirable class of white-collar workers are no less revealing: 67.9 Slovaks as against 40.3 Hungarians.
Since World War II, following the coup of 1948, the trend has been
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reversed. Economically, Slovaks and Hungarians are now treated as equals, more or less. It is mainly culturally that the Hungarian conditions are inferior. The most devastating blows were suffered during the terror of postwar persecution before 1948. What was left of the Hungarian intelligentsia after 1948 was weak both in numbers and in levels of education. Under such poor leadership the reconstruction of culture posed immense problems. The four-year ban on Hungarian cultural activities, with the illiteracy it forced upon the school age children, has left its mark even after decades - not to speak of the psychological effects of persecution. For four years, the Hungarians suffered under a barrage of crude denunciation as members of a 'fascist nation' and a 'guilty nation.' They had been charged with crimes they never committed against the Slovak nation during southern Slovakia's post-1938 Hungarian reannexation. The humiliation and intimidation, the inferiority complex feeding on memories of persecution, the debilitating moral and spiritual effects of postwar terror are still affecting generations of Slovakia's Hungarians.
Some aspects of Hungarian hardships in Czechoslovakia are related to the postwar problems of national minorities in general. The post-World War II era created an unsympathetic milieu for a fair consideration of minority rights in Central and Eastern Europe. Both East and West condemned European minorities as the principal cause of World War II. At the 1946 Peace Conference hostile world public opinion prevented the revival of international minority protection as it existed in the inter-war period.
The post-World War II antipathy against Europe's national minorities - shared by East and West alike - was neither just nor justifiable. After all, sooner or later Hitler would have launched his war machine even if no German minorities had existed in Central and Eastern Europe. Moreover, the national minorities were a byproduct of the Versailles peace settlement. Their dissatisfaction with their lot, which Hitler exploited, stemmed from the shortcomings of that settlement. Peacemaking after World War II disregarded all these circumstances in accepting the proposition (advanced mainly by President Benes) that national minorities are a threat to peace and a cause of war, therefore, they should be liquidated.
In Central and Eastern Europe, in particular, no distinction was made between ethnic diasporas of immigrants and long-established
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autochthonous populations who had become ethnic minorities only as a consequence of changed national boundaries. The Hungarian ethnic minorities in the Carpathian Basin are a classic example of this latter category. Most of them live in compact settlements in four countries adjacent to Hungary; they possess a strongly developed sense of collective national consciousness and attachment to Hungarian historical traditions - also a strong desire to preserve their Hungarian language and culture. To expect that such national minorities should behave like the immigrants in the American "melting pot" is both unfair and foolish.
No less unrealistic is the theory of "automatism" which was applied to problems of national minorities by some Marxist theoreticians in the postwar socialist states of Eastern Europe. According to this approach, national minority problems disappear automatically with the successful revolutionary transformation of class society into a classless one. Classical Marxism in fact plays into the hands of ruling majorities, and some Marxists do not hide this fact. They maintain that the proletarian revolution will inevitably establish unilingualism in each nation for the sake of convenience. Moreover, minorities are supposed to expedite this process by voluntarily facilitating their assimilation into the majority on pain of being labelled reactionary class enemies. In the 1960s, the Marxist writer Jan Sindelka elaborated this theme in Czechoslovakia.8
According to Sindelka assimilatory processes evolve through three phases. First, mutual antagonism disappears through mutual understanding. Second, ethnic groups become better acquainted. Third, they fuse - with the smaller group adopting the cultural standards of the larger one. As far as Czechoslovakia's Hungarian minority is concerned, Sindelka's paradigm has fundamental flaws. It assumes a cultural reciprocity and parity which is lacking between Slovaks and Hungarians. Whereas most Hungarians by now know the Slovak language and culture, very few Slovaks know the Hungarian language and culture. Slovak is a compulsory subject in every Hungarian minority school, but few Slovaks are taught Hungarian. Even Slovak historians are no longer familiar with the Hungarian language, though a common history of a thousand years would certainly warrant such familiarity, if for no other than professional reasons. In short, "mutual knowledge," which is at the bottom of Sindelka's theory, is missing.
Sindelka reproves minorities for wishing to defend themselves
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against assimilation. He deems it reactionary bourgeois nationalism if a minority wishes to maintain its ethnic isolation, conserve its national distinctions, and support its own national development at all costs, without exercising due regard for a process of "international rapprochement."9 He does not seem to understand that national minorities see no reason why they should sacrifice their national identity in the service of the ruling majority nation's utopian assimilatory objectives. Nor does gindelka seem to realize that ruling majorities are in a far better position to advance the cause of "mutual understanding" than the national minorities relegated to the status of inferiority. The fact of the matter is that it is the ruling Slovak establishment that systematically keeps ethnic hatred at fever pitch. A recent example is the book by the Slovak historian, Samuel Cambel, which approves all the worst excesses perpetrated by Slovaks against the Hungarians during the post-World War II persecutions, despite the fact that the Slovak Communist party has repeatedly condemned these outrages.10
Advocates of the Sindelka-type assimilation dogma have been forced to admit in due course that there is more to solving national minority problems than trusting the economically determined "automatism" of Marxist "revolutionary transformation."
In Slovakia, the struggle of the Hungarian minority is chiefly centered on restoring the quality and quantity of minority schools - in general, on rescuing Hungarian culture from declining standards. The assimilatory Slovak ethnic majority collides with the endangered but determined Hungarian ethnic minority. Both justify their position by citing various Marxist nostrums. The Hungarians seek to achieve cultural autonomy by invoking the Soviet principle of Marxist-Leninist nationality policy. The Slovaks counter such propositions by quoting Lenin's turn-of-the-century dictum spurning cultural self-determination for ethnic minorities. More pragmatic factors must be taken into consideration in order to understand the minority problem and evaluate the status of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia.
In the fall of 1948, when the Hungarians were once again recognized as Czechoslovak citizens, a slow improvement began; substantial results could not be discerned until ten years later. The gradual improvement was mirrored in official ethnic statistics. At the 1950 census, only 350,000 respondents dared to declare themselves Hungarian. By 1961, they approached the half million mark.
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This accretion certainly did not result from greatly augmented Hungarian fertility rates, but from having fears of persecution allayed. In constitutional legal terms the turning point came in 1956. For the first time, a constitutional law made mention of the Hungarian nationality. Article 2 of the 1956 Constitution guaranteed "favorable conditions for the economic and cultural life of the population of Hungarian and Ukrainian nationality." Article 20 of the 1960 Constitution marked further progress by guaranteeing "equal rights of all citizens irrespective of nationality or race," while Article 25 explicitly secured the right of "citizens of Hungarian, Ukrainian and Polish nationality to education in their mother tongues and all possibilities and means of their cultural development."
Actual improvement of conditions, however, did not keep pace with the progressively improved language of the law. Slightly more than one out of five Hungarian children still attended Slovak schools. And even in the relatively more evenhanded struggle for economic equality the Hungarians were left behind. At war's end, about 60 percent of the Hungarian population was employed in agriculture. Despite the countrywide rapid progress of industrialization, by 1961 still 40 percent of the Hungarians were engaged in agricultural pursuits. And the 1970 census confirmed a continued discrepancy: 34.7 percent of the Hungarian population was engaged in rural occupations as compared with only 18.6 percent of the Slovaks; and, while 35.2 percent of the Slovaks were industrially employed, only 22.8 percent of the Hungarians were listed in that category.11 One of the main reasons for their relatively slower economic progress is that far fewer Hungarians continued to be educated past the age of fourteen than their Slovak counterparts.
Not until the year of the "Prague Spring" were the Hungarians of Slovakia given the chance to voice their grievances publicly. CSEMADOK, the official Hungarian cultural organization, took the political initiative with a declaration on March 14, 1968, summing up the Hungarian minority grievances and proposing ways to redress them. On behalf of "Czechoslovakia's citizens of Hungarian nationality, workers, peasants, the intelligentsia, [Communist] party members and non-members," the declaration expressed agreement with the reform program of the Central Committee of the Czechoslovak Communist party and with the changes that had already taken place. On the subject of the party's program to regulate the nationality
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problem on a "new foundation," the CSEMADOK declaration stressed the necessity of "complete equality of rights," within a "federative reorganization" which would also grant a new constitutional status to the Hungarians and other nationalities according to the principle of self-administration." Furthermore, the new constitution must spell out "unequivocally and concretely" the equality of "nations" and "nationalities." Equality must be guaranteed not merely "individually," but also "collectively."
Following the Warsaw Pact intervention in August 1968, events took a very different course from the one anticipated by the March declaration of the Hungarian minority.
Hungarian Survival under Slovak Rule
The new constitution, promulgated October 28, 1968, on the fiftieth anniversary of Czechoslovakia's founding, carried out the promise of a federative reform. Since 1968, Czechoslovakia has been a dualist federation of two equal nations: the Czech and the Slovak. The Hungarians are now under Slovak rule in the Slovak Socialist Republic. Since 1968, the constitutional laws regulating the status of nationalities have fallen woefully short of the anticipated reforms. Not only has autonomy not been granted to the Hungarians, but even their constitutionally guaranteed language and cultural rights, including the right to "cultural-social association," have been curtailed or unfulfilled in Slovak practice, making Hungarian survival under Slovak rule in dualist Czechoslovakia even more precarious than before 1968. The 1970s in fact turned out to be, as Kalman Janics calls them, a "decade of deterioriation."12
Slovak ascendancy in Czechoslovakia's national power structure is noteworthy also. Viliam Siroky's long tenure in the post of prime minister (1953-64) was followed by that of another Slovak, Jozef Lenart. The liberal episode of the Prague Spring in 1968, essentially a Czech affair, came to be identified with Alexander Dubcek, at that time the Communist party head of Slovak origin. And post-invasion Czechoslovakia since 1968 came under the leadership of another Slovak Communist, Gustav Husak. The "decade of deterioration" of Slovakia's Hungarians, analyzed here by Kalman Janics, coincides with the Husak era in Czechoslovakia's history. S.B.
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Paradoxically, it was during the height of the cold-war years-from the fall of 1948 to 1958 - that the situation of Slovakia's Hungarian national minority was the most favorable. The detente years of the 1960s then witnessed a certain deterioration, which increased during the 1970s following the brief flare-up of great hopes in the spring of 1968. The so-called "Action Program of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia," adopted at the plenary session of the Central Committee on April 5, 1968, recognized the collective rights of the national minorities. This was a decision of great significance not merely within the framework of events known as the "Prague Spring," but in the history of Central and Eastern Europe as well. It is worth saving from oblivion the passages concerning the national minorities contained in this remarkable document. The Action Program recognized the "national individuality" of all nationalities in Czechoslovakia - of Hungarians, Poles, Ukrainians, and Germans. To that end, the Action Program declared the necessity "to stipulate constitutional and legal guarantees of a complete and real political, economic, and cultural equality," and "to ensure an active participation of the nationalities in public life, in the spirit of equality of rights according to the principle that the nationalities have the right to independence and selfadministration in provinces that concern them."13 In brief, this was a promise of autonomy for the nationalities.
The draft-constitution of 1968 retained the essential parts of the Action Program concerning the rights of the nationalities. At the last moment, however, all the passages that smacked of autonomy were crossed out, including words such as "independence and self-administration" or "economic and cultural equality." And, although the preamble of the constitution still retained the reference to collective recognition, the subsequent articles reduced the rights of the nationalities to the old unsatisfactory individual citizen level.
Despite the mutilated 1968 Constitution, there was no abrupt end to the hopes of a new era in Czechoslovakia's nationality policy. It took three years or so for the new anti-minority trend to assert itself fully. When the new Constitution took force on January 1, 1969, along with the Slovak government of the Slovak Socialist Republic, a Nationality Council was set up, composed of 28 members of which 9
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were Hungarians and 4 Ukrainians. Before long, however, it became evident that the Slovak nationality policy was not merely bent on destroying the reformist spirit of 1968 but was even curtailing the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the Hungarian minority. Such was the case with the revision of the role which CSEMADOK had assumed since 1968. In 1971, CSEMADOK was deprived of its constitutionally guaranteed functions as a "cultural-social organization" and was ordered to limit its activities to bureaucratic cultural affairs. Thus were dashed the hopes that CSEMADOK might serve as a representative of collective minority interests, as it did in the spring of 1968. Also killed was the hope that it might become the initiator of minority studies, filling the gap in Hungarian cultural life left by the lack of institutions of higher learning. It is one of the axioms of minority existence that if there is no articulated self-knowledge there is no co1lective self-awareness either, no cultural base for defending minority self-interests.
The defense of minority self-interest is a long-debated issue. Ushering in the decade of deterioration, in the spring of 1970, a press campaign was launched against minority self-administration, arguing that in a socialist society only the international working class is entitled to defense of its self-interest. The ideological salvo was fired by the Slovak historian Juraj Zvara with an essay in the Hungarianlanguage paper Uj Szo. 14 Zvara built his thesis around Lenin's turnof-the-century censure of the Czechs' seeking cultural autonomy in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Without clarifying why Lenin's particular anti-Austromarxist view should be valid in Slovakia today, Zvara branded as "anti-Leninism" any demand for cultural autonomy in the Slovak Socialist Republic. Publicly, only a former Czechoslovak Hungarian Communist, living in Budapest, begged politely to differ with the Zvara thesis.15 Thus ended the Marxist theoretical debate on Hungarian autonomy in Slovakia, while in practice the policy of Slovakization took over the field. Since then an air of intimidation has been rising ever more menacingly in the Hungarian communities, reminiscent of the anti-Hungarian climate of the immediate postwar era.
|Stephen Borsody: The Hungarians: A Divided Nation|