Hungarian passports; or, dumbest Stratfor article ever

This sort of thing is why I have trouble taking Stratfor seriously.

Short version: the new, center-right Hungarian government is reviving the plan to offer Hungarian citizenship and passports to ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary. (There are a couple of million of them. Most live in Hungary’s neighbors Romania, Slovakia and Serbia, with smaller numbers in Croatia and Ukraine.) Stratfor sees this as “an insurance policy — a way of broadening [Hungary’s] power and securing itself should its protectors, the European Union and NATO, weaken.”

What the hell?

First off, the article never once mentions Hungary’s internal politics. Yet internal politics — not a perceived need for “an insurance policy” — are what’s driving this. Like many center-right parties, Fidesz tries to position itself as the party of true, red-blooded patriotism (in contrast to the cosmopolitan, vaguely internationalist center-left). This proposal is red meat for the party’s base. It’s also an effort to expand that base, since Hungarian passport holders will of course be able to vote in Hungarian elections — and (Fidesz assumes) will tend to vote for the nationalist party that gave them dual citizenship. And finally, it’s a flanking move against Hungary’s other right-wing party, the ultra-nationalist, xenophobic, openly racist Jobbik. The Socialists and Greens got smashed so badly in the last election that they’re not a serious threat to Fidesz; Jobbik, on the other hand, competes directly for many of the same rural voters. So a nice high-profile “patriotic” initiative like this is an excellent way for Fidesz to burnish its nationalist credentials. These — not strategic concerns — are the motivating factors behind the proposal.

Second,the writer manages to miss the fact that this exact same proposal was put to a national referendum in Hungary in 2004. (It failed.)

Third, even the proposal’s most ardent supporters don’t claim it will “broaden Hungary’s power”. Everyone recognizes that this will harm Hungary’s relations with its neighbors without offering any gain to Hungary whatsoever. (Supporters claim the harm will be minimal. They may be right! But that’s not the same thing as “no harm”. It’s going to be a net negative.)

If you look at a map of where Hungarians live, it’s a big splash across Central Europe — there are Hungarians scattered from the Adriatic nearly to the Black Sea. (The original Stratfor article contains just such a map. But it’s behind a paywall because, you know, Stratfor needs to pay its highly trained analysts for this stuff.) But if you look at a map of where Hungarians are a majority, that’s a very different map indeed. Basically it’s Hungary plus a very few small enclaves, most of which are geographically separate from Hungary itself. The single biggest piece would be a few thousand square kilometers of Szekeley Land in Transylvania — a poor, mountainous region smack dab in the middle of Romania, a couple of hundred km away from Hungary, and separated from it by a broad belt of Romanian-majority counties. The article suggests that Hungary wants “traditional buffers” against geopolitical insecurity, but these little regions are much too small and geographically diffuse to serve that role. In a hypothetical conflict between Hungary and Romania, the Szeklers and other Hungarians of Transylvania wouldn’t be a strategic asset to Hungary — they’d simply be victims.

The article does note that the opposition to this among Hungary’s neighbors is hypocritical, since they’ve been handing out passports like party favors for years now — Serbia and Croatia to Bosnian Serbs and Croats, Romania to ethnic Romanians in Moldova. (Bizarrely, the article says Romania is doing this “in an effort to wrest Moldova from Russia’s control”. Again, what the hell?)

This is true, and at the end of the day it’s probably why not much will come of this even if the proposal passes: the countries who will be most offended by it are exactly the countries who are in no position to criticize it. (The interesting exception here is Slovakia. Given that Slovakia’s current government has engaged in very deliberate baiting of its Hungarian minority, the impact of this could be interesting.) That said, it’s still going to be offensive; Romania and Serbia still remember that large chunks of their countries were Hungarian before 1918, and then ruled by Hungary again during WWII. And it’s going to reinforce an ethnic-nationalist discourse of Hungarians as aliens, untrustworthy and disloyal leftovers from ancient invasions.

But at the end of the day, it’s just not going to make much difference. And it’s certainly not going to “broaden Hungary’s power” or in any way add to its security.

As for Stratfor… well, res ipsa loquitur. I will say that whenever anyone cites or links to Stratfor these days, I click through; I don’t consider it an automatically invalid source, but neither can it be called a trustworthy one.

25 thoughts on “Hungarian passports; or, dumbest Stratfor article ever

  1. “since Hungarian passport holders will of course be able to vote in Hungarian elections”

    Will they? I’m an Irish citizen but, never having lived there, don’t have the right to vote there. Citizenship doesn’t automatically imply the right to vote.

  2. Good call.

    For better or worse, Strator is still pretty much a US and a Texan operation.

    Yes, they have operatives elsewhere, but their inherent bias (which they are not aware of themselves) shows through.

    The more removed the things are from the grand chessboard and US interests, the more likely they are to be completely off the board in their takes.

  3. Ah, man. How come the Germans can’t do something like that? I’d love to have a free passport into Germany to visit because my mom’s side of the family is ethnic German.

  4. Stratfor’s analysis took a dive when the more intelligent of its founders died in a car crash.

  5. @ IF, yeah, Germany gives out passports to the children and grandchildren of German citizens, even if born abroad — but they don’t like dual citizenship. (They allow it, but only rarely and under certain very narrow circumstances.)

    @ Paddy, several Eastern European countries with large diasporas have provisions for diasporid representation in Parliament. IMS the most extreme example of this is Croatia, which has 12 diaspora seats in a Parliament of [googles] 160 members. In the last election there were about 4.5 million eligible voters, of which about 400,000 were diasporids.

    By far the biggest chunk of Croat diasporids live in Bosnia, and the great majority of those have double citizenship. So, it’s not unheard of.

    Doug M.

  6. I’m not completely up-to-date on German practice, but the authorities did seem to tolerate dual citizenship (i.e., did not go hugely out of their way to track down whether someone with a German passport also held another one) outside the range of circumstances in which it was explicitly allowed. And, if memory serves, people are explicitly allowed to hold dual citizenship through 23 years of age.

  7. Both Italy and Greece allow their ethnics living in other countries to obtain citizenship. Greece going many generations back. Italy even provides dedicated seats for non-residents in the both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

  8. Doug: lets say it is tricky. They changed the laws 10 years ago so that Germans that leave the country can jump through some hoops and keep citizenship when obtaining another. I got the feeling that it might be too many hoops and I’ll probably stick with greencard + DE citizenship myself. But I was under the strong impression that if foreigners want to obtain DE citizenship they have to give up their old one during naturalization. Also, unlike your impression, I got the feeling that German authorities actively track down violators. And interestingly many immigration decisions are done on a state (Bundesland) not federal level. My mom received DE citizenship from Thuringia, and I have a friend trying to get it in Bavaria. So, your mileage might greatly vary if you go through the process in Berlin or Munich.

  9. eat comment, Doug. I too find it difficult most of the time to take Stratfor seriously. They have these fix ideas about security politics trumping everything else all the time (and they ALWAYS feel the need to bring up the importance of geographic location, which according to them is the foundation of ALL politics). It’s simplistic, unenlightening and misleading. Unfortunately, their articles are also deceptively well-written, which gives the false impression that they have something worthwhile to say.

  10. As far as I can recall, officially it was never mentioned from the side of Fidesz that Hungarians living abroad in the Carpathian basin will have the right to vote in Hungary if they hold a Hungarian passport.

    This story started years ago, in the former governmental era of Fidesz (between 1998 and 2002). Then the government issued (‘)ID(‘)s (‘Magyar Igazolvány’) that allowed their holders, ethnic Hungarians living abroad to get some discounts in using some of Hungary’s services (e.g. the railway system) – but only on a limited basis. Moreover, it was a clear sound saying they are ‘not forgotten’ by Hungary. (Since 1990, one of the main priorities of Hungary was to take responsibility for Hungarians living in the Carpathian basin.)

    The referendum of 2004 Douglas has mentioned was originally rooted in a civil initiative by the World Organisation of Hungarians (Magyarok Világszövetsége). Serving his voter’s needs, I believe Fidesz had no other choice than to back up this initiative. During the campaign (which was pretty heated up) the Socialist and the Liberal parties argued that if the passport will be granted, not only the right to vote would be available for Hungarians living in the neighbouring countries, but the access to all public services (from hospitals to transportation) on the same basis as for Hungarians living in Hungary.

    Besides family, I have a few close friends who are Hungarians and nationals of neighbouring countries of Hungary. All of them have told me the same story: if they want to gain Hungarian citizenship, it takes years, a tremendous effort in time and money; overall giving them the feeling of being humiliated. (As contrast, giving citizenship to nationals of third countries may take less time). I think giving them passport without the prospect of being eligible to vote is a way of paying some ‘moral debt’ – and speaking of politics, a smack to both the Socialist party and Jobbik. Speaking of foreign policy, the most problematic state is Slovakia (they’re even before a parliamentary election nowadays) where the ‘Hungarian Card’ will surely be played.

    Douglas, you’ve mentioned the Greens got bashed badly in the last election – it’s true but if you mean ‘Politics Can Be Different’ (LMP) as the green party, I guess you should consider that this election was their first one and they did a pretty good job by getting into the Hungarian Parliament. Last, but not least: good article.

  11. Grabowski:
    did they tried to obtain it at least once or they are just ditributing rumors and “I have heard that way from an acquaintance of mine whose friend knew someone who tried it…” stories? Your friends from neighboruing countries doesn’t seem to be Hungarian citizens…(Just as the third country nationals would have preferential treatment. As long as it is the result of corruption you should better ask how did some Hungarians from the neighbouring countries with good contacts in Hungarian parties in Hungary obtained citizenship without fulfilling any conditions while fellow Hungairians had to be content with the official process…)

    The fact is that the process offers fairly significant advantages for ethnic Hungarians whose ancestors were Hungarian citizens if they are living in Hungary, not abroad. Is it a shameful practice? Why?

    I fear you underestimate the gravity of the Romanian situation. The collapse of the country will evidently bring the end of the attempt to annex Moldavia in the near future (they wont have the necessary resoruces), therefore they only remain one nationalist project: conflict with Hungary.

    Moreover, one should note that the international law excludes one country of a double national acting as a protective power (even in terms of consular help) reagrding the actions of the othr state this person belongs as its national. So, the idea of insurance can only be understood as gaining a leverage for a more conflictual policy line….

  12. wolff:
    They’re ethnic Hungarians who’re studying in Hungary with either Slovak or Ukrainian citizenship who have applied for Hungarian citizenship 2-3 years ago and the process has not ended. You’re right about the level of corruption (this I cannot estimate). I was mentioning the feel of being humiliated as regarding their treatment in the procedure: based on what I heard back, generally they are considered as Hungarian speaking Romanians, Slovaks and Ukrainians and not as ethnic Hungarians living in the above mentioned countries (this is basically the still-living legacy of the communist era).

    Why do you think Romania is on the verge of collapse?
    Right now Fidesz is maintaining good ties with the Romanian government (interestingly, through the European People’s Party) – based on this, I don’t think there’ll be any really serious clashes.

  13. (1) Romania is not going to collapse.

    (2) Romania is not currently attempting to annex Moldova, and is wildly unlikely to make such an attempt any time in the near future.

    (3) Just to drive the point home, Romania is not going to collapse.

    Doug M.

  14. I must differ regarding this article, although not entirely. Well said, this whole dual-citizenship thing has nothing to do with “future power” of Hungary, and it is not an aspiration towards border revisions. In the same time, I’d have a few words regarding the Right wing party… I wonder whether any of you, who say that they are truly extremists and radical, or racist and fascists, have ever heard any of them talk? The media does not show any of their interviews, they only talk OF them, and that is how this whole “extremist” thing is going around. Now, I don’t live in Hungary, but just out of curiosity I’ve looked them up on different sites, where you can actually hear them TALK, and there’s nothing wrong with their ideas. They try to rebuild their own country, their own nation, and they aren’t exactly talking against Zionism or Gypsies, but against the idea those represent. A thinker has to realize, that there’s truly a problem with the fact that this whole Europe is in the pocket of the (mostly Jewish) bankers, and that Gypsies (most of them) live on welfare, and all they do is multiply, because the more kids you have, the more money you get from the government. This right-wing of Hungary draws up several plans of how to get out of this crisis, and even the EU regarded their plans as the best plans yet, but they did not approve it because of the “media-trash” the whole party is covered into. I think more countries should have such aspirations, towards patriotism (which is forbidden within Hungary btw), towards national freedom and towards integrity. Their main wish is to restore Hungarian lands and businesses into native hands, push out the corporations, so the everyday man can survive too. For those, who still think this is all a bad idea and that the right-wing of Hungary is anything negative, please, look into it, as I did, listen to their politicians talk, look into their programs. One more thought… I’ve never seen such honest politicians as they are. They will not compromise for a bigger house and a nicer car, they want to do something for their own nation, even if they get no money for it whatsoever. Think it through… I’d be glad to have somebody like them in my country.

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