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1. Statistics
2. Maps
3. Chronology
4. Selected Bibliography


The Hungarians and Their Neighbors

1851 - 2000

Zoltan David

The first official census of Hungary's population according to "mother tongue", took place in 1851. Assessment and publication of its data has never been completed. Nevertheless, we do get from it a picture of Hungary's ethnic composition at mid-nineteenth century. The census was carried out in the so-called "Bach era" under Austrian civil authority, in the wake of the Hungarian defeat in the War of Independence of 1848-49. There is general agreement that the data are far from accurate. Most likely, only the number of Germans is accurate, while that of Magyar-speaking Hungarians is the least reliable. True to the anti-Hungarian spirit of the Bach era, the census counted Hungarians and Szekelys in Transylvania as two separate categories, thereby reducing the number of Hungarians to the lowest possible figure - just as Romanian censuses under Ceausescu have been doing since 1977.

Following the Austro - Hungarian Compromise of 1867, an independent Hungarian Statistical Office was established in Budapest. Its first general census was carried out in 1869. However, for "political reasons" (as it was in fact officially confirmed without further explanation) this census disregarded the languages spoken by the peoples of Hungary. The first ethnic census producing data on the basis of mother tongue did not take place until 1880, thirty years after the


1851 census. Thereafter such censuses were carried out regularly every ten years.

Statistical inquiry requires first of all clarification of principles, and this raises particular problems and difficulties when it comes to collecting data on language and nationality. It is the census takers' task to assess the state of ethnic self - awareness in respondents, which is a tricky operation considering the often unclear, illogical, politically charged, and emotionally biased state of mind of many respondents. Theoretically, the concepts of nation, nationality, race, origin, language, and culture seem to have clear collective meaning. But in practice, as far as individual people are concerned, these concepts may be differently perceived - to say nothing of the individual attitudes of the census takers themselves. Of course, these problems arise only in countries with more than one language and one nationality. And historic Hungary was such a country, as are all the states created since World War I in the Danube region.

Certain regions of historic Hungary were ethnically perhaps the most complex places in the world when census taking according to mother tongue began in the nineteenth century. People speaking different languages, when living in close communities or larger areas, preserved their "mother tongue" for centuries. Their ethnic status was clear and the censuses reflected it quite reliably. Problems and dangers of distortion arose in the boundary areas between neighboring groups, along the so-called "language frontiers," and also in villages with mixed populations. Then, too, in towns everyday life demanded bilingualism which, in nineteenth-century Hungary, sooner or later turned into the exclusive use of the dominant state language: the Hungarian. Hungary's capital, Budapest, was a characteristic example of rapid language change. Up to the middle of the nineteenth century, the majority of inhabitants were German-speaking. Then, with the influx of Hungarian - speaking people into the capital - and under the impact of the political ambiance following the Compromise of 1867 - Budapest became by the end of the nineteenth century almost completely Hungarian-speaking. Similar processes took place in other originally German-speaking towns of Hungary. Magyarization was also significantly assisted by the rapid assimilation of immigrant Jews in the capital and other towns. In the countryside, too, many bilingual villages - in particular those along the Hungarian-Slovak

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language frontier - became Hungarian-speaking; the area of Kassa (Kosice) stands out as an example of such a rural language change.

Hungarian statisticians distinguished themselves by refining the methods of census taking according to mother tongue. They also made great efforts to ensure the impartiality of ethnic census. They took pride in the high standards of methodology in their data collection. The work of the Hungarian Statistical Office was held in great esteem internationally. Nevertheless, in the spirit of the age of nationalism, the official reports on the decennial censuses extolled the expansion of the Hungarian language, thereby casting undeserved doubts on the objectivity of Hungarian statistics. There were increasingly violent attacks condemning Hungarian statistics, staged mainly by Czechs, concerned as they were about the stagnation - indeed, decline - of Slovaks in Hungary. The primary Czech argument against Hungarian statistics was that many people who spoke Hungarian were actually not of Hungarian nationality. The criticism disseminated by Czechs in publications abroad began to influence world opinion against alleged Magyarization in Hungary. On the other hand, Hungarian statisticians did nothing to defend their integrity.

The criticisms were, in part at least, justifiable. However, distortions of Hungarian ethnic statistics, if they occurred, were not caused by politica1 pressure on the Hungarian Statistical Office, nor were they the result of deliberate falsification. The Hungarian Statistical Office was not an instrument of Magyarization. Many people living, so to speak, on the borderline of two languages made their own decisions when they declared themselves Hungarians. After all, this was the language of the Hungarian state. Ever since Hungary's partitions in the twentieth century, similar distortions (not to speak of worse offenses) can be found galore in the census - taking practices of Hungary's neighbors. All this, of course, works now to the detriment of the Hungarians.

The peace treaties after World War I amply demonstrated the importance of nationality statistics. In drawing the new state boundaries, Hungary's rivals proclaimed the primacy of the ethnic principle over the historical one. However, willful distortions of the ethnic principles resulted in not only the partition of the Hungarian state but of the Hungarian nation as well. And, paradoxically, it was the carefully


registered data concerning mother tongues collected by the Hungarian censuses that were used by Hungary's neighbors against the Hungarians. Data favoring the Hungarians, however, were ignored by the peacemakers. In consequence, after World War I more than three million Hungarians, one out of every three, were incorporated into the newly created or enlarged states surrounding Hungary.

One of the arguments in support of the new boundaries was that quite a few non-Hungarians were left within the borders of diminished Hungary. This claim was anything but fair. For instance, by the Treaty of Trianon, 1,664,000 Hungarians were allotted to the enlarged state of Romania, but only 23,000 Romanians remained in Trianon Hungary. Substantial ethnic disproportions in the distribution of postwar minorities were also created for the benefit of Trianon Hungary's two other neighbors, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

In analyzing the censuses taken in Trianon Hungary, it should be pointed out that during the peace negotiations about 350,000 Hungarians fled to Hungary from the new states. Of those, 200,000 came from Romania, 100,000 from Czechoslovakia, and 50,000 from Yugoslavia. The ethnic behavior of non - Hungarians left in truncated Hungary varied greatly. For instance, in the first postwar census of 1920, entire Slovak - inhabited villages declared themselves Hungarian, while in others Slovak national consciousness had been awakened.

A new postwar task of Hungarian statisticians was the study of the fate of the three million so-called minority Hungarians in the neighboring states. From 1920 onward, the successor states, too, held decennial censuses - and it was now the Hungarians' turn to become critical of ethnic data collected according to mother tongue by Hungary's neighbors. In Czechoslovakia, for instance, the 1921 census listed only 739,000 Hungarians, in contrast to the 1,055,000 registered in the same area by the last census under Hungarian administration in 1910. One ploy applied by the Czechoslovak census to reduce the number of Hungarians was to separate persons of Jewish religion from the Hungarian - speaking population. This resulted in a considerable Hungarian loss, particularly in towns. Of course, smaller Hungarian groups living in non - Hungarian environments began to shrink or disappear in all the successor states, while bilingual citizens in the town often switched their nationality to the new rulers' tongue, which became the state language. Also, a major loss for the Hungarian minorities

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was the flight of civil servants to Hungary. But, even after all these factors are taken into consideration, Hungarian criticism of ethnic censuses in the neighboring states was not without foundation.

Still another new task confronting Hungarian statisticians came with the revision of the Trianon frontiers between 1938 and 1941, when Hungary regained some of her lost territories. In 1941, the Hungarian Statistical Office set in motion extensive preparations for a census in the enlarged country. Count Pal Teleki, prime minister at the time and a recognized expert in national minority affairs, intervened several times to ensure fairness in collecting ethnic data. Nevertheless a number of factors hampered the work of the Statistical Office. Particularly important at that time was to ensure complete objectivity regarding the German minority affected by Nazi propaganda. Another sensitive aspect was the attitude of Slovaks, Serbs, and Romanians who - after two decades of belonging to the majority in their own nation-states - found themselves again in a minority status under Hungarian rule.

According to the 1941 census, the total population of enlarged Hungary was 12,146,000. A careful analysis of the ethnic data reveals that about 489,000 persons of non-Hungarian mother tongue declared Hungarian as their nationality. Among Croats, 91 percent declared themselves to be Hungarian, while 35 percent among Slovaks and 25 percent among Germans did the same thing. The ratio was the lowest among Serbs and Ruthenians, 3 percent, while among Romanians it was 4 percent.

After World War II, the Paris Peace Conference ignored Hungary's effort to make the frontiers more consonant with ethnic realities in the Danube region. Hungary, denounced by her neighbors as "Hitler's last satellite," was treated as a nation not deserving fairness. The Trianon frontiers were restored without much ado in this second partition. Czechoslovakia in fact was granted an additional "bridgehead" across the Danube from Bratislava, consisting of four villages with exclusively Hungarian populations.

After World War II, the restoration of frontiers led to a much greater movement of peoples than that following the boundary changes in 1918 - 20, mainly because of the expulsion of millions of Germans. As for the Hungarians, about 125,000 fled from Romania, 30,000 from Czechoslovakia, and 30,000 from Yugoslavia, in the wake


of vicious postwar persecutions. In the course of a "population exchange," about 87,000 Hungarians were forced to leave their ancestral homes in present - day Slovakia. According to Hungarian statistics, 59,774 Slovaks were transferred more or less voluntarily from Hungary to Czechoslovakia (some Slovak sources claim 73,273 repatriated Slovaks). The Potsdam Conference - on Czechoslovakia's request ordered the expulsion of Germans from Hungary (to make room for the Hungarians earmarked for total expulsion from Czechoslovakia, a design that foundered ultimately). There are no official data in Hungarian statistics on the number of Germans transferred from Hungary. It can, however, be estimated that, out of the 475,491 Germans (according to the 1941 census), about 225,000 were forced to leave Hungary.

The first post - World War II Hungarian census, carried out in 1949, bore a strong imprint of the "homogeneous nation-state" spirit of the times. Large numbers of bilingual Germans and a smaller number of Slovaks who were spared transfer or expulsion declared themselves as Hungarians. Thus, the total number of non-Hungarians was reduced to 129,000, and Hungary's population became 98.6 percent Hungarian. By 1970, the number of non-Hungarians increased to 170,000, but that was still only 1.5 percent of the total population.

The interest of Hungarian statisticians goes beyond the boundaries of present-day Hungary - partly because of the large numbers of Hungarians living in the neighboring states, but also because of historical involvement with ethnic relations in the Carpathian Basin as a whole. The continuing analysis of ethnic statistics of the Carpathian Basin since the breakup of historic Hungary is made easier by the fact that the areas annexed by Hungary's neighbors still constitute more-or-less separate entities within the new state boundaries. The area annexed by Austria is today the province of Burgenland. Slovakia remains distinct from the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia within Czechoslovakia. Ruthenia today is a Transcarpathian province of the Ukraine within the Soviet Union. In Romania, administrative changes did not erase the boundaries of Transylvania and adjacent territories once belonging to Hungary. So far, no political change has been able to wipe out the natural boundaries of the Carpathian Mountains. Only in Yugoslavia, changes in borders between Serbia and Croatia need

Statistics: The Hungarians and Their Neighbors, 1851 - 2000 339

to be taken into consideration in analyzing post-partition ethnic statistics of historic Hungary.

As our tables below show, according to official censuses carried out in the countries of the Carpathian Basin, the proportion of Hungarians in the area of historic Hungary decreased between 1910 and 1980 from 54.5 percent to 50.5 percent. In our tables we had to introduce "estimates" in order to take into account the chauvinistic practices affecting census taking. In most instances, official statistical data in the Danube region cannot be accepted without reservations. Thus, against the total of 2,887,000 Hungarians shown in official censuses of Hungary's neighbors, one can safely estimate the actual Hungarian minority population to stand at 3.4 million (see table 4). Adding this to the bulk of the Hungarians living in Hungary, the total number of Hungarians in the Danube region today amounts to an estimated 14 million. They are the second largest national ethnic group of the region, topped only by the Romanians. But what does the future hold for the Hungarians?

According to the 1980 census, Hungary's population was 10,709,463. This shows a net increase of 387,364 (3.8 percent) against the census of 1970. Although the increase is 0.2 percent higher than in the 1960 - 1970 decade, it is only half of the increase of the 19491960 statistical decade. Furthermore, if the period since 1975 is registered by years beyond 1980, a steady decline is noticeable, leading to actual losses rather than gains in the last few years. The natural increase was 63,138 in 1975 (6 percent); 53,165 in 1976 (5 percent); 45,543 in 1977 (4.3 percent); 28,039 in 1978 (2.7 percent); 23,535 in 1979 (2.2 percent); 3,318 in 1980 (0.3 percent); but minus 1,867 in 1981 (-0.2 percent); minus 10,759 in 1982 (-1 percent); and minus 21,240 in 1983 (-2 percent). In addition to falling birth rates, emigration is a prominent factor among the causes of the recent decreases. Furthermore, in order to maintain the economic gains of recent years, all signs seem to indicate that Hungary is not going to embark on a successful campaign for more children. It is even questionable whether Hungary reduced to its present size would be economically capable of sustaining any further population growth. The density of population in Hungary already is one of the highest in Europe. Thus, looking into the future, a decrease in population - or,


at best, stagnation - is most likely to continue in Hungary through the year 2000. From the viewpoint of the year 2000, the state of the Hungarians in the neighboring countries is not promising either - there, too, stagnation at best may be expected.

In Czechoslovakia, according to the 1980 census, there were 579,200 people of Hungarian nationality. While between 1961 and 1970 the number of Hungarians increased by 39,000, in the last decade the increase was only 7,000. At the same time, the total population of Czechoslovakia increased by 4 percent between 1961 and 1970, and by 6.5 percent between 1970 and 1980. The decline of Czechoslovakia's Hungarians is due partly to the decline of opportunities and standards of education in the Hungarian mother tongue. It is a well-known fact that the language of schooling bears upon people's nationality. Another reason is the method of census taking. The official instruction at the last census was to list as Slovaks all pupils attending Slovak schools. All these and other pressures are reflected in the statistical discrepancies between "nationality" and "mother tongue" of respondents: the number of people who declared themselves Hungarian by "nationality" was fifty thousand fewer than that of those who claimed Hungarian as their "mother tongue." Incidentally, the erratic fluctuation in the numbers of Hungarians in the two postwar censuses has no demographic significance; it is the result of the Slovak nationalist "re-Slovakization" campaign, stopped following the Communist takeover in 1948 (see Table 4a).

In our estimate, the number of Hungarians living in Czechoslovakia today is about 750,000, or even 1 million, counting the bilingual "borderline" population of towns as well as the people of unquestionably Hungarian origin who figure as Slovaks in the official statistics. Yet, by the indicators we are using in our forecast, we cannot envisage an increase in Czechoslovakia's Hungarian population. In our estimate, a decline to 640,000 by the year 2000 seems more likely. At the same time the number of Slovaks will probably reach over 5 million, representing the second highest increase (slightly behind the Romanians) among the peoples of the Carpathian Basin during the period since World War I.

In Trans-Carpathia of the Soviet Ukraine, the situation of the Hungarians seems somewhat better. True, according to the last census, their increase was only half of what could have been expected: only

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3 percent as against 7.3 percent in the preceding decade. Unexpectedly, however - and contrary to the general pattern - more people declared themselves Hungarians by "nationality" (171,000) than by "mother tongue" (163,134). We do not know the reason. In any case, our indicators suggest that by the year 2000 one may expect 200,000 Hungarians in Trans-Carpathia among a total population of 1,100,000.

In Romania, the last census gave the number of people of Hungarian nationality as 1,670,568. This is an increase of 51,000 over the previous decade, but only one-third of what might have been expected. According to official statistics, since the 1956-1966 decade, the natural increase of Hungarians in Romania came practically to a halt. The total number of Romanians between 1956 and 1977 increased by 4 million (26 percent). During the same period, the Hungarian population grew only by a total of 17,000 (1 percent), whereas projections based on natural increase expected a gain of nearly 400,000. In view of what goes on in Romanian census taking, the actual number of Hungarians today can be safely estimated at 2 million. This corresponds to less than 10 percent of Romania's total population of over 22 million, but is close to 30 percent of the population in the Romanian territories annexed from Hungary (Transylvania proper and adjacent western areas).

Of course, despite their strong national consciousness and the great tradition of their Transylvanian-Hungarian culture, erosion by assimilation is a constant threat to Romania's Hungarian minority. One of the unfavorable factors is that 47 percent of Hungarians today live in towns where they are subject to increasing pressures of Romanization. Mixed marriages, the growing suppression of education in the Hungarian mother tongue, the loss of day - to - day contacts with the Hungarian community in a Romanian environment - all these assimilatory forces have a much stronger impact in towns than in the villages. Another unfavorable circumstance is the official policy of industrialization, bypassing as it does the Hungarian areas thereby forcing the Hungarian workers to move into purely Romanian regions of the country. In Hungarian areas where industries have been set up, Romanian employees are usually recruited to run them. As a consequence, the economically disadvantaged Hungarian villages can hardly maintain their existing population levels, let alone increase them. It is particularly the younger generation that is being attracted


to the towns or to newly established industrial centers in the Romanian regions. And the farther they have to move from their places of birth, the more difficult it becomes for them to safeguard their Hungarian tongue and the Hungarian national consciousness.

Taking into account all these factors, one cannot forecast a number greater than 2.2 million Hungarians living in Romania by the year 2000. One must envisage that at least 200,000 Hungarians will be absorbed into the fast-growing ruling Romanian nationality. By the turn of the century, there may be a total of half a million assimilated Romanians of Hungarian origin. Certainly, knowing the tendency of Romanian statistics, one can expect only a very small officially recognized increase of Hungarians.

In Yugoslavia, statistically speaking, the situation of the Hungarian minority is the worst among Hungary's neighbors. On the other hand, official policy toward the Hungarian minority is the most advantageous. To take the statistics first: In 1961, a total of 504,368 people of Hungarian nationality were counted. By 1971, this number dropped to 477,374. The 1981 census showed a further decrease: only 426,865 (minus 1.9 percent) were counted, against a total population of 22,418,331 in Yugoslavia. Since 1961, the total Hungarian loss is 77,503 (minus 10.6 percent). The decrease itself is no surprise, though it is greater than expected.

The main reason for the decrease is emigration. Yugoslavia's Hungarians may decide more easily than Hungarians in other states to emigrate because they are less deeply rooted there. Their land was almost completely devastated by the Turkish wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. After liberation from Turkish rule, this region was only partially repopulated by Hungarian peasants, because the Habsburg administration preferred German and Slav settlers in this so-called military border zone. It has also been said that the Titoist, relatively liberal, Yugoslav nationality policy plays a role in the decline of the Hungarian minority. The idea behind this assumption is that oppression, not liberalism, increases a minority's strength. However, this theory is highly debatable. It is more likely that, in addition to emigration, ambition for economic success through assimilation is the principal cause of the Hungarian population decrease. As for the future: the decrease most likely is going to continue and by 2000 the number of Hungarians may be down to about 390,000.

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