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* 9

The Hungarians of Vojvodina under Yugoslav Rule

Andrew Ludanyi

After World War II, Tito's leadership and the ideological commitment of the Yugoslav Communist party to Marxism-Leninism set the stage for an integrationist and tolerant ethnic policy. But before such policies could be enacted, deportations, transfers, emigration, and executions had drastically altered Vojvodina's ethnic composition. An estimated 150,000 Germans (Volksdeutsche) and 30,000 Hungarians were imprisoned or executed as war criminals and collaborators. Ultimately, about 450,000 Germans and 40,000 Hungarians were deported or, as a group, transferred to their mother countries.1

With Slav settlers replacing the Germans and Hungarians, Vojvodina's population today is over one-half Serb, nearly one-fifth other Southern Slavs, and less than one-fourth Hungarian. For a while, the size of the Hungarian population only stagnated, but beginning in the 1960s it started declining. Between 1961 and 1971, it dropped from 504,000 to 477,000, and there was a further drop to 420,000 according to the 1981 census. The Albanians, by contrast, Yugoslavia's next largest non-Slav nationality, are rapidly growing in numbers. The Hungarians' statistical decline may be a result of their more effective integration into the Slav majority, or it could be also due to their lower birthrate and continuing emigration.2

Yugoslavia is one of Europe's ethnically and linguistically most diverse states. Besides Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (the founders of


Yugoslavia in 1918), there are Albanians, Hungarians, Germans, Romanians, Turks, Macedonians, Bulgarians, and some other ethnic groups in smaller numbers living in the country. Most of Yugoslavia's Hungarians live in a fairly compact area of the Vojvodina, today an autonomous province within the Socialist Republic of Serbia, one of the six republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Once predominantly Hungarian, the region became ethnically mixed as a result of Turkish wars as well as Slav migration and German colonization following Habsburg liberation from Turkish rule.3 At the time of Hungary's partition after World War I, the population of Vojvodina was roughly one-third South Slavic, one third German, and one-third Hungarian.4

In the interwar period Yugoslavia resorted to a two-pronged policy to weaken the country's Hungarian minority: outright repression on the one hand and divide-and-rule tactics of Habsburg times on the other. Beset by nationality problems, the government backed loyal ethnic groups against the irredentist Hungarians.5 As elsewhere in the successor states, land reform served as a pretext for bringing in colonists from the ranks of the ruling nationality. The Serbian settlers, acting as "border guards," diluted the Hungarian areas to some extent but it was mainly the attempt to "Serbianize" the Hungarians linguistically and culturally that stirred up Hungarian resentment against Yugoslav rule. The cultural life of the Hungarians was linked to their churches, schools, and folklore. All three became targets of Yugoslav government policy to reduce the region's Hungarian character.6

Most Hungarians of the Vojvodina are Roman Catholics as opposed to the Orthodox Serbs. A postwar Concordat with the Vatican redrew the boundaries of the dioceses so as to make them correspond to the new state boundaries. The clergy of the Vojvodina became subject to the Croatian prelates in Zagreb. All church schools were transformed into state schools under the Ministry of Education in Belgrade. Instruction in the Hungarian language was limited to four elementary grades, but the allowed number of such schools was well below the Hungarian ethnic percentage.7 Furthermore, education in Hungarian schools stressed indoctrination in Yugoslav nationalism by a teaching staff at least one third of which was of South Slavic origin.8

There was a perceptible easing of repressive measures against the Hungarians following the assassination of King Alexander in 1934. Under Regent Prince Paul - although Yugoslavia was a member state

The Hungarians of Vojvodina under Yugoslav Rule 193

of the anti-Hungarian Little Entente - there were signs of a rapprochement with Hungary.9 Subsequent events, however, foiled the rising hopes of a genuine Yugoslav-Hungarian reconciliation. In 1941 Hungary joined the Axis powers and took part in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia.

In light of two decades of adverse interwar experiences, it was no surprise that most Hungarians in the Vojvodina welcomed their return to Hungary. However, the Hungarian reacquisition of the Vojvodina was short-lived, with gruesome consequences. The Hungarian occupying forces committed atrocities, the worst among them the Novi Sad (Ujvidek) massacre, but the local Hungarian population, rather than the actual perpetrators of the crimes, suffered under postwar retaliation. 10

The Theory and Practice of Nationality Policy

The trauma of internecine ethnic strife, both prewar and wartime, convinced the Communist party of Yugoslavia that a new approach was needed to solve the country's nationality problems. The wartime ethnic solidarity of the partisan experience ushered in the new policy. The Communists led by Tito have created a partisan movement which has overcome the petty nationalism of the past. Partisan groups have been organized in all parts of the multiethnic country - even among Hungarians of the Vojvodina.11 Struggle against the Germans demanded unity transcending ethnic divisions. As Milovan Djilas pointed out:

It is incontestable that in the massacres going on between Serbs and Croats [during the war] the Yugoslav state would have disappeared had not the Communists appeared on the scene. They had all the conditions for such a role: vision, organization and leadership. The Communists were impervious not only to the demoralization of the ruling classes, but also to the chauvinistic excesses. They were the only party that was Yugoslav [emphasis in original] in the composition of its membership, in its political practice and - interpreted narrowly - in its internationalism.12

The postwar momentum of Titoist Yugoslav internationalism drew its force from the partisan mystique.13 The partisan experience projected a sense of mission; it had a supranational appeal. The partisans were fighting not just against Nazi Germany but also against reaction


a ANDREW LUDANYI nd -racism; they were fighting for progressive ideals, for a brighter future of mankind. Internationalism was the legacy of the partisan experience, although, until early 1943, the partisans were mostly Serbs and Montenegrins. In due course, however, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians, and other nationalities joined the partisan movement. The partisans became thus a genuinely all-Yugoslav antifascist alliance. Even though most Hungarians were not sympathetic to the partisans, during the last few months of the war a Hungarian "Petofi brigade" had been formed which actually saw action against the Germans in the Battle of Bolman - and a great deal has been made of it by Yugoslav historians.14

True to the partisan mystique, the first of the "basic principles" of Yugoslavia's postwar constitution proclaimed the right of every nation to self-determination. The principle, after undergoing several rephrasings, reads in the preamble of the 1974 Constitution as follows:

The nations of Yugoslavia, proceeding from the right of every nation to self-determination, including the right to secession, on the basis of their will freely expressed in the common struggle of all nations and nationalities in the National Liberation War and Socialist Revolution, and in conformity with their historic aspiration, aware that further consolidation of their brotherhood and unity is in the common interest, have, together with the nationalities with which they live, united in a federal republic of free and equal nations and nationalities and founded a socialist federal community of working people - the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.l5

This declaration of principle goes far beyond what other East European Communist constitutions say about the subject of self-determination, in fact, beyond anything that the Yugoslavs themselves consider feasible or desirable. Actually, in the earlier constitutions, the right of secession and the right to self-determination were mentioned only in the preambles.'6 The articles of the 1974 Constitution, however, draw a line between those who have those rights and those who do not.

The earlier constitutions spoke rather loosely of "peoples" and "nationalities" of multiethnic Yugoslavia. The 1974 Constitution distinguishes between "nations" and "nationalities." While both nations and nationalities are guaranteed "equality" and "freedom" within the "socialist federal community of working people," only nations have the right to self-determination and secession.l7 By "nations" the

The Hungarians of Vojvodina under Yugoslav Rule 195

Constitution means the South Slav founders of Yugoslavia: Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. By "nationalities" the Constitution means the other, mostly non-Slav nationalities: Albanians, Hungarians, Romanians, and so on, that is, the minorities.

As officially interpreted, by suppressing the old distinction between "majority" and "minority," equality has been established by the new constitution between "nations" and "nationalities." But, constitutional definitions and interpretations notwithstanding, the actual status of the non-Slav Hungarians (and of other "nationalities" as well) is that of a minority-and their lot is affected, as before, by both international and domestic developments.

The major postwar events that stand out in the context of the majority-minority relations in general are the following: the Tito-Stalin split in 1948, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the purge of Aleksandar Rankovic in 1966, the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Croatian unrest of 1970-71, and the Albanian stirrings of 1968 and 1981-82.

The Tito-Stalin confrontation had negative repercussions in the short run, but positive consequences in the long run. When the Yugoslav Communist party was expelled from the Cominform, Stalin expected Tito's demise and the reincorporation of Yugoslavia into the Soviet bloc. The Cominform unleashed a campaign of vilification against Tito and the Yugoslav "revisionists" in general. One aspect of this campaign was to discredit Yugoslav nationality policies and to foment unrest, particularly among the national minorities. Each one of the neighboring Soviet bloc states was given the assignment to stir up discontent among fellow nationals in Yugoslavia. Thus, the Bulgarians focused on the Bulgarian and Macedonian populations, the Albanians appealed to the Albanians, the Hungarians criticized the treatment of the Hungarians, while the Romanians took issue with the alleged persecution of their nationals and other minorities in the Banat part of the Vojvodina.

All Cominform criticism equated the Titoist policies with "chauvinist pan-Serbian" aspirations. Interestingly, the Cominform campaign was limited to arousing the national minorities and did not exploit the traditional rivalry between Croats and Serbs. The objective was not to destroy Yugoslavia, but to topple Tito and to bring the country back into the Soviet bloc intact.18 Some tension was


generated, but not enough to coax any of the minority nationalities into rioting or rebellion. Only a few desertions from the armed forces and illegal border crossings occurred.19 In any case, the Yugoslav military presence in critical areas acted as a deterrent to serious unrest.

The events of 1948 made Yugoslav policymakers aware of the vulnerability of a multinational country. A sense of insecurity was the likely reason for seeking in the 1950s centralized handling of nationality problems. The Constitution of 1953 as well as the policy statements of that period stood for the centralist idea of "Yugoslavism" ("jugoslovenstvo").20 The government emphasized Slav loyalty to the state in an effort to counter the potentially disruptive forces of non-Slav nationalities. Great stress was laid on the Slav self-consciousness and the role of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes as statemakers of the Yugoslav state. But the stress on the central powers of the state also tended to deemphasize the autonomy of the individual federal republics of the three Slavic nations. Consequently, central control over the autonomy of the Vojvodina and Kosovo-Metohia within the Serbian Republic (the home of Hungarians and Albanians, respectively) was also tightened.

Yet the Hungarian nationality within Vojvodina actually benefited from this centrally controlled restriction of the region's autonomy. The region's government was forced to conform with federal laws, and protection was thereby provided against local chauvinist abuses under "Yugoslavism ."

Of all the Hungarian minorities in Eastern Europe, the Hungarians of the Vojvodina remained most passive during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.21 One of the explanations offered for this fact is that the Yugoslav treatment of Hungarians was improving at that time.22 Another explanation could be that due to the brief but cruel period of postwar retribution the Hungarians were too intimidated. Also, initially, the Yugoslav government did not condemn the Hungarian uprising. In fact, Tito sympathized with Imre Nagy and with the Hungarian objective to free the country of Soviet interference in domestic affairs. Tito turned against the Hungarian Revolution only when it threatened the hegemony of the Communist party.23

The internationally calmer 1960s have served as a beneficial background to domestic reforms in Yugoslavia. The constitutional revision of 1963 ushered in a period of controlled decentralization. While

The Hungarians of Vojvodina under Yugoslav Rule 197

providing more self-government on local levels, it strengthened the country's federal structure. It was a unifying instrument without imposing uniformity.24 In 1966, Aleksandar Rankovic, defender of Yugoslav centralism, was forced to resign. With his fall from power, the ethnic assertiveness could again more freely manifest itself, particularly among the individual Slavic nations. But the non-Slavic nationalities also registered gains - not as much though as they expected from the decentralizing reforms.

Decentralization heightened the expectations for greater ethnic freedom among the minority nationalities. Constitutionally, decentralization bestowed upon the autonomous provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo within the Serbian Federal Republic virtual equality with the Republic itself. In reality, however, the longed-for self-government has not been achieved either by the Republic's Albanians or Hungarians. Frustration reached a particularly high point among the Albanians. In 1968, the year of the dramatic events in Czechoslovakia, the first massive postwar Albanian unrest broke out in both Kosovo and Macedonia.

In the Vojvodina, dissatisfaction erupted on two occasions. One, in the late 1960s, was the Rehak affair, involving the foremost Hungarian Communist scholar of the nationality question. (See Annex I, below.) As a representative in the Assembly of the Serbian Republic, Laszlo Rehak questioned the footdragging of the University of Novi Sad in setting up a Hungarian Studies Institute. The Serbian press attacked him as a nationalist and whipped up enough opposition to block his expected election to the vice presidential post of the Executive Committee of the Serbian Republic.25

The other incident was the so-called Symposion affair, involving Sandor Rozsa, a student at the University of Novi Sad. In 1971, the year of Croatian unrest, Rozsa described the Hungarians as the "niggers" of Yugoslavia in an article in the Hungarian periodical Uj Symposion. Those who dare to speak Hungarian in public places, he wrote, are treated as second-class citizens.26 Punished for his outburst of widely felt frustration, Rozsa was denounced as a nationalist troublemaker. He lost his university scholarship and was stripped of his responsibilities as Hungarian-language program coordinator at the Novi Sad Youth Council. The periodical itself had to make a public apology for publishing the article.27

It should be pointed out that these types of "affairs" are the


exception rather than the rule of Hungarian life in Vojvodina. However, until the issue of bilingualism in matters of street signs, official forms and blanks, and public services in general, is solved to satisfaction, the social atmosphere surrounding the minority will remain stifling and often intimidating. (For another "affair," see Annex II)

The Future of Yugoslav Multinationalism

The present Belgrade government has tried to improve the atmosphere surrounding majority-minority relations. However, even the best intentions cannot remove the discriminatory legacy of the past. Ingrained biases and modes of behavior inherited from the interwar years still survive. Only through reforms on all levels-republic, autonomous province, cities, communes, and workers' councils-could the situation be radically improved.

But even under the present circumstances, the Hungarians of Yugoslavia have incomparably greater cultural and educational opportunities than during the interwar years. In general, they are better off as a nationality than the Hungarians in Romania, Slovakia, or the Carpatho-Ukraine. Under Tito, and under his successors since his death in 1980, the Yugoslav state has respected the Hungarians' right to be Hungarians. They do not have autonomy - not yet, Marxist theoreticians, like Laszlo Rehak, may say. The Hungarians of the Vojvodina are a minority in an autonomous province with a Serb majority. But the Yugoslav regime has provided the Hungarians with educational institutions, cultural facilities, and publishing opportunities which are doing a credible job in serving the Hungarian cultural interest of the Vojvodina.28

Yugoslavia's self-image and the image it wants to project to the outside world tends to reinforce the commitment to multinationalism. The Yugoslavs have been the hosts to international conferences and symposia dealing with the needs of national minorities. The most significant such conclaves have been the United Nations sponsored meetings at Ljubljana (1965), Ohrid (1974), and Novi Sad (1976). Also, at the Helsinki follow-up conference in Belgrade (1977) the Yugoslavs presented their nationality policies as a model to the rest of the world.29 For Yugoslav self-image the role of a model for multiethnic societies is at least as important as the stand on non-alignment. In their international relations, these two aspirations are frequently

The Hungarians of Vojvodina under Yugoslav Rule 199

presented as complementary.30 National minorities are viewed as bridge builders between nations, both on the domestic and international scene.31

For the Hungarians of the Vojvodina the role of bridge builders between Yugoslavia and Hungary is a most welcome one. In fact, Hungary has eagerly reciprocated Yugoslav overtures to this effect. Cultural exchange programs of various kinds have been arranged. Dance groups, exhibits, films, books, periodicals, and other cultural products have crossed the border in both directions on a regular basis. Sister cities in the two countries have enhanced exchange opportunities. Also, a program assisting the Serbs of Hungary and the Hungarians of Yugoslavia provides for exchange of textbooks and even educational opportunities for teacher training on university levels.32 This reciprocity is threatened only when relations between the USSR and Yugoslavia deteriorate.

Some tentative conclusions can be drawn from the present situation about future prospects. On the positive side, the treatment of Hungarians-aside from the immediate postwar years and during the Cominform conflict - has been much better after than before World War II. Also, it is tolerant and pluralistic in comparison to conditions that prevail in Romania, Czechoslovakia, and the Carpatho-Ukraine. On the negative side, the Hungarian minority in Yugoslavia is exposed to the whims of changing power constellations in a one-party autocratic political order. Within this system, Communist "democratic centralism" can override the interests, needs, and rights of any national group unless the leaders of the country are committed to ethnocultural pluralism. The delicate balance in both the domestic and international situations should caution us against confidently assuming that conditions will always favor tolerance. But should change bring intolerance in nationality policies, it is not likely that the Yugoslav state itself would survive. The very existence of the state, and the legitimacy of its present order, depends on the viability of pluralism that can secure the rights of all the peoples of multinational Yugoslavia.


1. For an overview of population changes in Eastern Europe, see Leszek Antoni Kosinski, "Population Censuses in East-Central Europe in the Twentieth


Century," East European Quarterly 5 (1971): 274-301. Also, Theodore Schieder, ed., Das Schicksal der Deutschen in Jugoslawien in Dokumentation der Vertreibung der Deutschen aus Ost-Mittel-Europa (Bonn, 1961), 5:11A; Elemer Hommonnay, Atrocities Committed by Tito's Communist Partisans in the Occupied Southern-Hungary (Cleveland, 1957); Zoltan David, "A magyar nemzetisegi statisztika multja es jelene," Valosag 23/8 (August 1980): 92.

2. For speculations about the Hungarian demographic picture in Yugoslavia, see articles in Uj Symposion by Karoly Mirnics (February 1971): 112, and Csaba Utasi (May 1971): 216-17.

3. The repopulation of this war-ravaged area by Serbian and German "soldier-colonists" receives extensive treatment in Gunther E. Rothenberg, The Military Border of Croatia, 1740-1881 (Chicago, 1966).

4. C. A. Macartney, Hungary and Her Successors (London, 1937), 381.

5. Ibid., 409, 433-34.

6. Robert Lee Wolff, The Balkans in Our Time (Cambridge, Mass., 1956), 156.

7. Macartney, Hungary, 418; Wolff, The Balkans in Our Times, 156.

8. Macartney, Hungary, 420-21.

9. For a discussion of change in Yugoslav foreign policy at that time, see Hamilton Fish Armstrong, "After the Assassination of King Alexander," Foreign Affairs 13/2 (January 1935): 224-25; J. B. Hoptner, "Yugoslavia as Neutralist: 1937," Journal of Central European Affairs 16:4 (July 1956): 15676.

10. The most detailed study of the Novi Sad events is Janos Buzasi's Az ujvideki "razzia" (Budapest, 1963).

11. Danilo Kecic, "Figyelo": A JKP Vajdasagban a felkeles elokeszitesenek es meginditasanak napjaiban," trans. Jozef Kollin, Hfd 25 (September 1961): 784-94; Josip Broz Tito, "The Fascist or any Other Similar Threat Must Never Again be Allowed to Appear," Socialist Thought and Practice 15 (1975): 3-29.

12. Milovan Djilas, "The Roots of Nationalism in Yugoslavia," in Michael and Deborah Milenkovitch, eds., Parts of a Lifetime (New York, 1975), 397. Also, see Chapter 12, below, "The Tito Thesis."

13. Andrew Ludanyi, "Titoist Integration of Yugoslavia: The Partisan Myth and the Hungarians of the Vojvodina, 1945-1975," Polity 12 (Winter 1979): 225-52. Yugoslav nationality policies since World War II are discussed in J. Frankel, "Communism and the National Question in Yugoslavia," Journal of Central European Affairs 15 (April 1955): 49-65; Evangelos Kofos, "Balkan Minorities under Communist Regimes," Balkan Studies 2 (1961): 42-46; Paul Shoup, "Yugoslavia's National Minorities under Communism," Slavic Review 22 (March 1963): 64-81; George Schopflin, "Nationality in the

The Hungarians of Vojvodina under Yugoslav Rule 201

Fabric of Yugoslav Politics," Survey 25 (Summer 1980): 1-19. On this subject, see also Chapter 12, below.

14. Bogdan Smiljevic and Dorde Knezevic, A legujabb kor tortenete, trans. Kalman Csehak (Subotica, 1965), 146-224.

15. Dragolub Durovic et al., eds., and Marko Pavicic, trans., The Constitution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Belgrade, 1974), 53.

16. Compare the 1974 Constitution with the 1946 Constitution (Annex I in Chapter 12, below) and with the Fundamental Law Pertaining to the Bases of the Social and Political Organization of the Federal Organs of State Authority (January 13, 1953), Amos J. Peaslee, ed., Consfitutions of Nations (The Hague, 1956), 3: 766. See also Annex II in Chapter 12 for excerpts from the Statute of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina.

17. Durovic, et al., eds., The Constitution, 53.

18. Robert R. King, Minorities under Communism: Nationalities as a Source of Tension among Balkan Communist States (Cambridge, Mass., 1973), 68-69, 71.

19. Schopflin, "Nationality in the Fabric of Yugoslav Politics," 4.

20. Ibid., 2.

21. King, Minorities under Communism, 86.

22. George Klein, "Yugoslavia," in Bela K. Kiraly and Paul Jonas, eds., The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 in Retrospect (Boulder, Colo., 1978), 1045.

23. Bennett Kovrig, Communism in Hungary: From Kun to Kadar (Stanford, 1979), 313-14.

24. Frederik W Hondius, The Yugoslav Community of Nations (The Hague, 1968), 336; George W Hoffman and Fred Warner Neal, Yugoslavia and the New Communism (New York, 1962), 213.

25. On the Rehak Affair, see articles by Csaba Utasi and Istvan Bosnyak in Uj Symposion (April-May 1967): 40-45.

26. Uj Symposion (August 1971), 344-45. Uj Symposium (December 1971). 441-42.

27. See my "Hungarians in Rumania and Yugoslavia: A Comparative Study of Communist Nationality Policies") (Ph.D. diss., Louisiana State University, 1971), 277-87.

28. Dusan Popovski, "Respect for the Rights of Ethnic Minorities," Socialist Thought and Practice 16/12 (December 1976): 63-64; Istvan Feher, "Egyenjogusag es az oktatas," Hfd 40/10 (October 1976): 1253-54.

29. Popovski, "Respect for the Rights of Ethnic Minorities," 58-59.

30. Atif Purivatra, "Tito's Contribution to the Theory and Practice of the National Question," Socialist Thought and Practice 19/2 (February 1979): 69-73


31. Laszlo Kovago, Nemzetisegek a mai Magyarorszagon (Budapest, 1981), 88-89, 135-42, 182-88.

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