Imre Szilágyi

Slovenian policy towards ethnic Hungarians in the 1990s

Slovenian minority policy in the first period of multi-party democracy (1989-1992)

On September 27, 1989, Slovenia amended the republic's Constitution. These amendments ensured the creation of a market economy and a multi-party system, as well as the republic's independence, but they also included important changes for the country's minorities. Article 250 declared that the Italian and Hungarian minorities were "autochthonous minorities", a status that ensured special rights compared to the non- autochthonous minorities such as the Serbians, Croatians and various other ethnic groups. According to Article 163 the representation of the Hungarian and Italian minority must be ensured in the councils in ethnically mixed areas. According to paragraph 3 of Article 338, the Hungarian and Italian minority would be entitled to at least one seat each in all three chambers of the Slovenian National Assembly. The Election Act of 1989 and 1990 stipulated that a separate election block must be created for the Italian and Hungarian ethnic minority for the National Assembly elections and that similar election blocks could be created for the local government elections too. Article 10 of the Election Act is phrased rather ambiguously as to the election franchise of the autochthonous minorities and declared that only members of the Hungarian and Italian minorities have a passive franchise in the separate constituencies.[1] This practically meant that the candidates of the autochthonous minorities did not have to run against the majority candidates, only against each other.

       Prior to the elections in the spring of 1990, the Slovenian National Assembly passed another amendment to the Constitution in which the equality of the Hungarian and Italian minorities was guaranteed.[2] The election programmes of the political parties all addressed the problem of the country's minorities. The programme of the then opposition DEMOS coalition, one of the three largest election blocks at the time, declared that "the preservation and development, as well as the complete self-assertion of the Italian and Hungarian minorities in Slovenia must be ensured." The programmes of the individual parties that made up the DEMOS coalition usually contained even less concerning the autochthonous minorities. The programme of the Party for Democratic Change (ZKS-SDP, later SDP), the successor of the Communist Alliance, contained the following passage: "The Slovenian Socialist Republic is the state of the Slovenian nation, the Italian and Hungarian national community and of all other citizens of Slovenia. ... We condemn any paternalism and suspicion towards the Italian and Hungarian community in Slovenia. We fully support that their status and role should be one that allows their autonomous self-assertion in social, political and economic life, and the development of ethnically mixed areas that prevents the extinction of the minorities and ensures their development and prosperity." The election programme of the Slovenian youth organization (ZSMS, later LDS) declared that "any minority policy must be based on an awareness that minorities are an integral part of national society (nacionalna družba) as minorities, and not as an ethnically alien population that will sooner or later be assimilated. Minority policy must be aimed at the preservation and prosperity of minorities; being the member of an ethnic minority should in no way change the nature of the individual's citizenship. Members of minorities should not only enjoy the same opportunities for social self-assertion as all other citizens, but should also enjoy certain special privileges."[3]

       As regards the Hungarian minority, the wording of the new Slovenian Constitution was of prime importance. The first problem was created by the fact that the first article of the draft Constitution declared that "The Republic of Slovenia is a sovereign state based on the unalienable self-determination of the Slovenian people." Ciril Ribičič, leader of the SDP in autumn, 1990, had already challenged this wording that implied that the autochthonous nationalities would lose their former privileges.[4] Geza Bačič, an official counsellor to the Slovenian Nationality Office, believed that it would be expedient to declare that the Italian and Hungarian ethnic minorities are an integral part of Slovenian statehood.[5] However, Ferenc Hajós, a deputy of the Hungarian minority was still protesting as late as November, 1991, that the text of the first article of the Constitution had remained unchanged. [6]

       Members of the Hungarian minority were repeatedly reassured by the highest Slovenian leaders - such as President Milan Kučan, Prime Minister Lojze Peterle and Speaker of the National Assembly France Bučar - that the rights of the Hungarian and Italian minorities would be remain unchanged.[7] Mária Pozsonec noted that the amendments to the Constitution must be carefully monitored "even if the ethnic Italians and Hungarians of Slovenia are reassured by various officials of the republic that their rights will not be curtailed."[8]

       In the autumn of 1991 when the final text of the Constitution was drawn up, the issue of minority rights was always on the agenda when Slovenian politicians negotiated abroad.[9] As a result, the new Constitution adopted on December 23, 1991 was favourable to the autochthonous minorities. According to Article 3, "Slovenia is a state of all its citizens and is based on the permanent and inalienable right of the Slovenian people to self-determination." Although this wording is more promising than the draft text of the Constitution quoted in the above, the autochthonous minorities were still not mentioned as an integral part of Slovenian statehood. While earlier Constitutions used the phrase "ethnic minority", the new Constitution designated autochthonous minorities as "ethnic communities".[10] According to Article 11, "The official language of Slovenia shall be Slovenian. In those areas where Italian or Hungarian ethnic communities reside, the official language shall also be Italian or Hungarian." Article 64 is exemplary in the regulation of the minorities' status and, especially, in ensuring that they can exercising their rights in public life.

       After the enactment of the new Constitution, representatives of the ethnic Hungarians turned their attention to the legislation on local self-governments. It was suggested that ethnic Hungarians should "receive a new, autonomous status that would be more than the current public administration."[11]

       The most important event of the year 1992 was the ratification of two international treaties that strengthened the position of ethnic Hungarians in Slovenia. One of these was the "Agreement on ensuring the special rights of the Slovenian ethnic minority in the Republic of Hungary and of the Hungarian national community in the Republic of Slovenia", signed on November 6, 1992. Article 1 of this document declares that "The contracting parties will ensure the preservation and assertion of Slovenian and Hungarian identity respectively for the members of these minorities through the free expression of culture, language and religion. They will adopt the necessary measures and mechanism in education, culture, mass media, publishing and research activity, economy and in other areas that will promote the many-facetted development of minorities." According to Article 9, "the administrative and regional organizations of the state and of the local self-governments will not be to the disadvantage of the minorities."[12] Dimitrij Rupel, the then Foreign Minister of Slovenia noted that "this agreement could act as a model for others and Slovenia would be very pleased indeed if such an agreement could be reached with neighbouring countries, such as Austria and Italy."[13]

       Article 16 of the "Friendship and Cooperation Treaty between the Republic of Hungary and the Republic of Slovenia", signed on December 1, 1992, declared that "members of the Hungarian ethnic minority living in the Republic of Slovenia have the right to freely express, preserve and develop their ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity, both individually or together with other members of their community, without fear of being forced to assimilate. They have the right to freely use their mother tongue both in private and in public, to disseminate, to exchange and to have access to information in their mother tongue."[14]


Legislation after 1993

 Article 39 of the Self-Government Act, passed on December 21, 1993, stipulates that "in ethnically mixed territories, inhabited by the Italian and Hungarian national community, the local council (obcinski svet) shall have at least one member from these communities. The community statute stipulates the direct participation of national communities in other organs of the municipality. The municipality shall determine by special statute all issues that relate to the funding of national communities and the exercising of their rights."

       This act considers it a normal phenomenon that Slovenians form a minority in some municipalities; Article 40 states that "if members of the Slovenian nation form a minority in a municipality, the stipulations of this act concerning the representation of the Hungarian and Italian national community in the organs of the municipality shall pertain to them."[15] The Hungarian minority objected. László Göncz noted that "in the villages that have a Hungarian majority, the law conferred the right of the election of a minority candidate with a special status to the majority nation. We have before us the absurd situation that the majority enjoys the rights of the minority."[16]

       The Constitutional Court raised certain objections to some points of this act and some issues were also hotly debated by members of the majority nation.[17] The Slovenian National Assembly passed the act on the need for the formation of local self-governments on October 3, 1994. Mária Pozsonec, a minority deputy bitterly noted that "this piece of legislation is unprofessional and was enacted in haste", a point also echoed by some deputies of the majority nation. She objected that the suggestions and recommendations concerning a possible decision by the affected municipality on where it wanted to belong made by the minorities were outright rejected.

       On October 5, 1994, the Slovenian National Assembly enacted the Minority National Self-Government Act. The act regulates the rights contained in the Constitution and in Article 39 of the Self-Government Act. Three points of this act need to be mentioned. Article 3 stipulates that the approval of the National Self-Government Community must be obtained in all decisions concerning the special rights of the national communities in the local governments. Article 6 stipulates that a National Self-Government Community must be created in ethnically mixed territories, while Article 18 declares that the national communities will be funded by the Republic of Slovenia.[18]

       Based on the stipulations of the Constitution and the National Self-Government Municipalities Act, on June 26, 1995, the Council of the Mura Region Hungarian National Self-Government Municipality (MMNÖK) passed the Statute of the MMNÖK that regulated the procedures of operation and the authority of the MMNÖK. According to Paragraph 8, "the national community has its own flag of three, red, white and green stripes. ... The anthem of the Hungarian community shall be ‘God bless the Hungarians'. The use of the flag and the anthem is the irrevocable right of the Hungarian community."[19]

       The principles set down in the Constitution and the National Self-Government Act are regulated by a variety of other acts. These include various acts on the use of minority language and bilingualism, education, access to information and several other issues.[20]


Problems in the application of minority legislation

 Although the highest governmental bodies and state dignitaries, as well as the legislation clearly define the status of the Hungarian national community, various difficulties have been encountered both in legislation and in the execution of the enacted laws. Some problems can be set within the context of national politics, while others materialized on a local level, but even the latter must in some cases be treated as a national problem.

       The most important among these were the petitions to the Constitutional Court that suggested that certain pieces of legislation regulating the special rights of minorities were unconstitutional. These were the following:

       (1) The petitioners claimed that the articles of the National Assembly Elections Act and the Local Self-Government Act stipulating that the Italian and the Hungarian minorities vote on two separate ballot papers, one listing the deputies to be elected to the National Assembly, the other the minority deputies who would represent them in the National Assembly and in the municipality councils, were discriminative and unconstitutional, and that they did not promote the protection of minorities.

       (2) The petitioners claimed that the house rules of the National Assembly should be modified and the mandate of the minority deputies should be restricted, it being unconstitutional that these deputies should have the right to vote on all issues - and not just the ones affecting minorities - submitted to the National Assembly.

       (3) The petitioners claimed that the enacted laws stipulating that members of the Italian and Hungarian minority whose permanent residence lies outside the ethnically mixed territories have the right to be listed in the minority register in order to acquire the special franchise, is unconstitutional. They argued that the extension of this right to the non-autochthonous members of the national community was in excess of the constitutional protection of minorities.

       (4) The ‘stalemate' in consequence of the elections held on November 10, 1996 (45 ‘right-wing' and 43 ‘left-wing' deputies, plus the two ethnic minority deputies) clearly revealed that the two national minority deputies could greatly influence the formation of the government coalition and the opposition, as well as legislative work itself, and that the possibility that new elections would have to be held could not be excluded. The petitioners therefore re-submitted their petition in a slightly modified form on November 14, 1996. They suggested that the dual franchise of the members of the national communities be suspended for some time.

       The secretariat of the legislative and legal committee of the National Assembly also commented on these petitions and noted that the laws claimed to be unconstitutional merely ensure the exercising of rights set down in the Constitution. The secretariat quoted article 4 of agreement on national minorities of the European Union according to which laws that are enacted with regard to the special circumstances of minorities cannot be considered as discriminating against the majority nation.

       In its ruling the Constitutional Court essentially repeated and supplemented the arguments of the secretariat. The Court also noted that in certain countries - among them Hungary - minorities have the right participate in decisions affecting the entire country in excess to the recommendations of international law.

       The only point that the Constitutional Court deemed problematic was the question of the electoral register. Although the Constitution stipulates that members of the autochthonous minorities be listed in the electoral register, the Constitution and the pertinent laws do not contain a definition of who should be regarded as a member of the autochthonous communities - and, as a result, there is no regulation as to who can actually be included in the separate minority electoral register. The registers were drawn up by a committee of the national community, but there were no regulations as to the procedure itself and as a rule the register included individuals who declared themselves to be a member of the national community. The Constitutional Court disapproved of this practice since it was based on the individual's choice of whether he considered himself Hungarian or not. The Court ruled that "the issue of whether an individual is a member of the Hungarian or Italian autochthonous community is not merely a question of the individual's choice, but also an affair of the national community since in compliance with the effective laws the community regards the individual as its member and includes him in the electoral register." Since the circumstances of this procedure have not been clarified, "legislators are required to define the criteria whereby it can be determined whether the individual is a member of the Italian or Hungarian national community." Legislators were requested to perform this duty before the next elections.[21] In June, 2000, the Slovenian National Assembly fulfilled the request of the Constitutional Court. "The minority electoral register shall be drawn up by the committee of the minority community. The committee shall define ethnic affiliation according to the individual's activity within the national community and the individual's bonds to minority culture and language."[22]

       The Constitutional Court has still not addressed petitions that objected to the use of the symbols of an alien state (the Hungarian tricolor flag and the Hungarian anthem) by the Hungarian minority. The issue of bilingual education too awaits a decision by the Court. In this latter case the submitters of the petition objected that members of the majority nation have to learn Hungarian.[23] The petitioners in these two cases included the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly and the National Council. This too probably contributed to the amendment of the Statute of the Mura Region Hungarian National Self-Government Municipality in 1997. Article 8 of the amended Statute declares that the "national community has its own flag, coat-of-arms and anthem. The use of the symbols of the national community shall be regulated by statute."[24]

       On October 22, 1998, the Constitutional Court finally announced its ruling concerning bilingual education. This decision was favourable to the Hungarians since it proclaimed that the legislation on the organization and funding of bilingual education is not unconstitutional.[25] The Court's ruling also favoured the Hungarian minority by rejecting the proposal that minorities not be allowed to use emblems that correspond to the emblems of the mother country.[26] Article 7 of the new Statute of the Mura Region Hungarian National Self-Government Municipality, passed on July 12, 1999, declared that the "Mura Region Hungarian National Self-Government Municipality shall use the symbols of the Hungarian nation. Their use shall be regulated by law and by the statutes of the self-government."[27]

       Local problems included the issue of bilingual inscriptions in ethnically mixed territories that, in sharp contradiction to the law, were often only in Slovenian.[28] Another frequent problem was that in spite of the regulation that public offices should employ officials speaking both languages, this rule was often neglected.[29] Another problem is that although Article 5 of the Judiciary Act stipulates that the language of the minority population should also be used in court in ethnically mixed territories, there are not enough professionals to enforce this law. There have also been complaints that the opinion of the Hungarian minority is regularly neglected in the drafting of laws that affect the Hungarian minority.[30]

       The reasonable attitude of the Slovenian authorities is indicated by the case when in 1997, Vilko Novak, a retired university professor who was on good terms with the Hungarians, was outraged over a book by Tibor Zsiga entitled From the Mura region to Trianon.[31] Professor Novak challenged certain conclusions drawn by author, and he was also outraged that the book had been published by the Hungarian National Cultural Institute, and in this sense the publication of an anti-Slovenian book had been funded by the Slovenian state. Novak demanded an interpellation in the National Assembly.[32] The Slovenian authorities did not create a cause célèbre of this issue. The press secretary of the Cultural Ministry merely pointed out that the publication of the book was not funded from the Slovenian budget.

       Even so, the incident left its mark on Slovenian-Hungarian relations, as shown by two events in 1999. A heated debate broke out between Slovenian ministries and Hungarian deputies over the funding of the millennium marking the foundation of the medieval Hungarian state, an important anniversary for the Hungarian minority.[33] The second was the so-called poster scandal in August, 1999. The Slovenians wanted to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the organization of the Mura region in 1919. The Hungarians refused to participate in any of the associated events. In late June, 1999 posters in Slovenian announced the events of the anniversary. The Hungarians found these posters offensive. The scandal broke out when a Hungarian poster announcing that "August 11, 1999 marks the beginning of the long-awaited Hungarian resurrection" was glued over some of these posters. The appearance of the Hungarian posters and the Slovenian interpretation of this latter sentence poisoned the relationship between Hungarian and Slovenian politicians. The scandal mostly revolved around the interpretation of the word ‘resurrection' since its Slovenian equivalent, vstajane, also means "uprising" or "revolt".

       It is still unclear to what extent the poster scandal has harmed the good, exemplary relations between Slovenians and Hungarians.[34] It must also be noted that a representative of the new government coalition, formed in the spring of 2000, noted that even though he is not particularly bothered by minority rights, he would nonetheless appreciate if the minority deputies would refrain from voting in certain cardinal issues, such as the election of the Prime Minister.[35] This most certainly indicates that the debate over the rights of the deputies of the autochthonous national minorities is far from over.

[1]        Franci Grad, Volitve v politicnem pluralizmu [Elections in political pluralism]. Ljubljana, Institut za javno upravo pri Pravni fakulteti v Ljubljani, 1990, 13; Ferenc Hajós, A szlovéniai magyarok képviselete és önkormányzata [Representation and self-government of the ethnic Hungarians in Slovenia]. Regio 1991:1, 107; Ustavno sodišče... [The constitutional court...]. Uradni list Republike Slovenije 1998, 3. 13, 1311-1312.

[2]        Károly Tóth (ed.), Kelet-európa új alkotmányai [New constitutions of eastern Europe]. 1997, 31.

[3]        Koga voliti?! Program političnih strank in list na spomladanskih volitvah v Sloveniji [Whom to elect? Programmes of the political parties and election coalitions participating in the spring elections]. Ljubljana 1990, 14, 110-111, 206.

[4]        Ciril Ribičič, Krazpavi o osnutku ustave [The debate on the draft constitution]. Nasi razgledi, 1990: October 26, 574-575.

[5]        Geza Bačič, Az új alkotmány és a nemzetiségek [The new constitution and the minorities]. Népújság 1991: June 28, 5.

[6]        Ferenc Hajós, Új alkotmány - új jogok? [New constitution - new rights?] Naptár 92. A szlovéniai magyarok évkönyve. Lendva 1991, 102.

[7]        Geza Bačič, Az új alkotmány és a nemzetiségek [The new constitution and the minorities]. Népújság 1991: June 28, 5. Ferenc Hajós, Új alkotmány - új jogok? [New constitution - new rights?] Naptár 92. A szlovéniai magyarok évkönyve. Lendva 1991, 102.

[8]        S. Sz., Végre elfogadták az irányelveket [The guiding principles have at last been accepted]. Népújság 1990: October 12.

[9]        Milan Kučan v Ljubljani o obisku v Bonnu [Milan Kučan spoke about his visit to Bonn in Ljubljana]. Večer 1991: October 10, 6; Skupna tiskovna konferenca da Mihelisa in dr. Rupla [Press conference held by De Michelis and Dr. Rupel]. Večer 1991: October 2; Zaščita majin na evropski ravni. Telefonski pogovor Kučan-Genscher [Minority protection on a European level. Telephone conversation between Kučan and Genscher]. Večer 1991: November 11, 2; O zunanjepolitičnem položaju Slovenije [Foreign political position of Slovenia]. Večer 1991: November 20, 6; Nemski kancler Kohl: Priznanje Slovenije in Hrvaške do božiča [Chancellor Kohl: Recognition of Slovenia and Croatia before Christmas]. Večer 1991: November 28, 5.

[10]       Ferenc Hajós, Új alkotmány - új jogok? [New constitution - new rights?] Naptár 92. A szlovéniai magyarok évkönyve. Lendva 1991, 101. For the full English text of the Slovenian Constitution, cp. http://www.us-rs.si/en/basisfr.html.

[11]       Sándor Szúnyogh, Nagyobb autonómiát a kisebbségeknek [A greater autonomy for the minortiies]. Népújság 1992: 10, 28-29.

[12]       1996. évi VI. törvény [Act VI of 1996]. . Hatályos Jogszabályok Gyűjteménye. 1998.

[13]       Ernest Ružič, Egyezmény a kisebbségi különjogok biztosításáról [Agreement on ensuring sepcial minority rights.] Népújság 1992: December 11, 4.

[14]       1995. évi XLVI. törvény [Act XLVI. of 1995]. Magyar Közlöny 1995: 45, 2046.

[15]       Zakon o lokalni samoupravi [The local self-government act]. Uradni list Republike Slovenije 1993: December 21, 3768.

[16]       Kisebbségvédelem, autonómia, Schengen [Minority protection, autonomy, Schengen]. Magyar Napló 1998: December, 46.

[17]       /zs/, Májusi referendum - a legdrágább közvéleménykutatás [Referendum in May - the most expensive opinion poll]. Népújság 1994: August 5, 2.

[18]       (-ce), Azért vagyok a parlamentben, hogy szolgáljak! [I am a deputy in order to serve!]. Népújság 1998: May 7, 5.

[19]       Statútum [Statute]. Népújság 1995: August 18, 9.

[20]       Miran Komac, Varstvo narodnih skupnosti v Republiki Sloveniji [Protection of national communities in the Republic of Slovenia]. Ljubljana, Institut za narodnosta vprasanja, 1995, 37-65.

[21]       Mária Pozsonec, Ülésezett a Szlovén Parlament Nemzetiségi Bizottsága [Session of the Minority Committee of the Slovenian National Assembly]. Népújság 1996: July 18, 5; Ceprev izidi se niso uradni, je pravzaprav vse odloceno [Although official results have not yet been announced, everything has been decided]. Delo 1998: November 12, 1; Uradni list Republike Slovenije 1998: 3. 13, 1308-1314.

[22]       Jutka M. Király, A nemzetiségi választási névjegyzékről [The minority electoral register]. Népújság 2000: August 3.

[23]       Berkeháza, Jánosfa és Gerőháza a kétnyelvűség keresztútján [Berkeháza, Jánosfa and Gerőháza: at the crossroad of bilingualism]. Népújság 1993: September 3, 3; (-oe), A nemzeti Biztosság üléséről [The session of the National Committee]. Népújság 1997: March 20; Albert Halász, Hoz-e változást a külügyminiszterek találkozója? [Will the meeting of the foreign ministers bring any change?]. Népújság 1997: April 10, 5; Albert Halász, Meghallgatták az érintetteket [Hearing of the affected]. Népújság 1997: June 12, 5; (-oe), Azért vagyok a parlamentben, hogy szolgáljak! [I am a deputy in order to serve!]. Népújság 1998: May 7, 5.

[24]       A Muravidéki Magyar Nemzeti Önigazgatási Közösség statútuma [Statute of the Mura Region Hungarian National Self-Government Municipality]. Népújság 1997: March 6, 25-28.

[25]       SNK: A kétnyelvű oktatás nem alkotmányellenes [SNK: Bilingual education is not unconstitutional]. Népújság 1998: December 8, 10.

[26]       (t.t.), Az Alkotmánybíróság döntött, minden marad a régiben [The Constitutional Court has brought its ruling - everything remains unchanged]. Népújság 1999: March 4, 5; Lajos Bence, Felségjeleink az alkotmányosság mérlegén [Our emblems in the scale of constitutionality]. Népújság 1999: March 11, 2.

[27]       A Muravidéki Magyar Önkormányzat Alapszabályzata [Statute of the Mura Region Hungarian National Self-Government Municipality]. Népújság 1999: July 22, 21.

[28]       S. Sz, Miért nincsenek magyar nyelvű feliratok? [Why aren't there Hungarian inscriptions?]. Népújság 1992: January 1; József Balaskó, Legalább a szemünknek hiányozzanak [Our eyes should at least miss them]. Népújság 1996: September 12, 3.

[29]       (-ce), Több régi és új probléma terítéken [Old and new problems on the agenda]. Népújság 1997: July 10, 5.

[30]       FH, Lojze Peterle fogadta a kisebbség képviselőit [Lojze Peterle met with representatives of the minority]. Népújság 1999: March 25; (-ce), Nincs kiút a válságból? [No solution to the crisis?]. Népújság 2000: June 22.

[31]       Dr. Tibor Zsiga, Muravidéktől Trianonig [From the Mura region to Trianon]. Lendva, 1996.

[32]       Vilko Novak, Obtožujem. Napad na slovenstvo Prekmurja! [I accuse. Attack on the Slovenians of the Mura region]. Delo 1997: May 27, 16.

[33]       L. Bence, Erélyesebb fellépést sürgettek [Urging a more definitve stand]. Népújság 1999: July 8, 5.

[34]       Lajos Bence, Hatékonyabb befektetésre kell törekedni [Efforts must be made towards a more effective investment]. Népújság 1999: November 11, 8.

[35]       Anton Hrvatin, Recipročnost v kavarni [Reciprocity in the coffee-house]. Mladina 2000: June 19, 22-23.