Welcome to Linguis Europae, the EUC's language blog!

Linguis Europae is dedicated to a range of topics involving official state, regional, and minority languages in the EU. Posts are written in five languages by UI students and faculty! Check back regularly for updates!

Bridging the Gap: Language and Community in Action in East Central Illinois

Skye Mclean discusses the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECRIMAC), which provides services essential to refugee and immigrant resettlement in East-Central Illinois and aids in the exchange and preservation of their respective cultures.

Place and Space: Another Perspective on Crimea

Senior Andrey Starosin offers his perspective on the current events taking place in Crimea.

French Professor Revamps Course on "Language and Minorities in Europe"

Linguis Europae's own Zsuzsanna Fagyal and her course "Languages and Minorities in Europe" were featured in a recent issue of the School of Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics.

Un'Ode al "Dialàtt Bulgnaiś": An Ode to the Bolgnese Dialect

Kaitlyn Russell muses on her fondness for the Italian dialect, Bolognese.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Hungarians Beyond The(ir) Borders

by Gyula Zsombok

Once a Hungarian, always a Hungarian? Nothing would appear to suggest this interpretation more eloquently than the expression “határon túli magyarok”, whose most straightforward translation in English would probably be ‘Hungarian disaspora’, i.e. individuals of Hungarian origin living abroad. However, as we shall see, much would be lost in translation by jumping from “beyond the borders” to something as vague and general as “abroad!"

Hungarian Diaspora in the Carpathian Basin
“Hungarians beyond the borders” are Hungarian-speaking ethnic minorities living in neighboring states that have acquired two brand new rights regardless of where “beyond the borders” of Hungary they are actually located: they have been on the fast track for naturalization as Hungarian citizens since 2011 and they have legally participated in the Hungarian parliamentary elections in March 2014. This unified legal picture viewed from “within the borders” of Hungary, however, quickly dissolves into many complex local stories and histories when statistics and historical events in the 20th century are taken into account.

According to the latest state censuses, whose numbers vary substantially between 2001 and 2011, Hungarians are an ethnic minority in Slovakia (8.5%), Ukraine (0.3%), Romania (6.5%), Serbia (3.5%), Croatia (0.3%), Slovenia (0.3%) and in Austria (0.2%).

Despite the reign of the Austrian Habsburg kings from 1526 on, the Carpathian Basin in Central Europe was, for the most part, ruled by the Kingdom of Hungary and its allies between the 11th and 20th centuries. Thus, the situation was exactly the opposite of what we can observe today: Hungarians were a populous ethnicity, but a sizeable portion of the population has always been composed of ethnic minorities of Slovak, Rusyn, Romanian, Serbian, Croatian, German or other origins. The defeat of Austria-Hungary by the Entente Powers in World War I had severe consequences for the country: Hungary lost two thirds of its territory by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920.  The newly established states of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the enlarged Romania became new homelands for around 30% of Hungarians – now ethnic minorities – in the Carpathian Basin. Fast forward to the early 21st century: since all neighboring countries signed and ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the rights to be valued members of society, in principle, are guaranteed for all of these Hungarians “beyond the(ir) borders”.

Everything seems to be in order then, isn’t it?

Not quite. While surely, borders represent strong physical and legal barriers, group membership can easily be contested, for instance by extending it “beyond its current limit”. Citizenship rules turned out to be one such case in Hungary. In 2004, the left wing government MSZP – Hungarian Socialist Party – and the SZDSZ – Alliance of Free Democrats – held a referendum on this matter. The question that they asked concerned the installment of an easier procedure of naturalization for those who did not live in Hungary, but declared themselves ethnic Hungarian and were able to prove their Hungarian origins. Contrary to all expectations, the results were disappointing: although 51.57% of the participants supported the initiative, they constituted only 18.90% of the electorate. Since the law required at least 25% of the total votes in supportive of the measure, the referendum in 2004 was a failure and left little hope for extended citizenship rights for Hungarians in the neighboring states. 

Did Hungarians of Hungary abandonHungarians beyond the borders?

The most recent parliamentary elections took place
on April 6, 2014, where Hungarians beyond the borders
had the right to vote for the first time.
Not quite, yet. When the right wing party (Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Alliance) came to power in the 2010 general elections, a nationalist tone again became dominant in the government that quickly signed into law much easier naturalization procedures for “ethnic Hungarians beyond their borders”. As the 2 § (2) of the law XLIV of 2010 declares, a non Hungarian citizen can be easily naturalized, if any of the person’s ancestors was a Hungarian citizen or if the person is likely to be of Hungarian origin, and if the person shows evidence of knowledge of the Hungarian language.

Problem solved?

Yes, and no. On the one hand, reactions from the governments of neighboring countries ranged from complete ignorance to acceptance and refusal. The most intense reaction came from Slovakia whose Hungarian minority constitutes 8.5% of the population: the Slovak state passed a law that bars Slovak citizenship from those who apply for another country’s citizenship, considered as a threat to the Slovak nation. On the other hand, according to the current Hungarian electoral system (established in 2011), citizens who are not permanent residents of the country are also entitled to vote in the parliamentary elections. The first such election took place on April 6, 2014.

So, do people who might have never lived in Hungary decide who the next prime minister of Hungary can be?

"This is the time! Only the Fidesz!"
Campaign for the parliamentary elections of 2014
Precisely, and this is another conflict that has been raised by granting citizenship for “Hungarians beyond the borders”. The current electoral system allows non-permanent resident citizens vote by mail, while it requires permanent resident citizens not living in Hungary to go to an embassy or a consulate. This measure provoked yet another dimension of conflict between “new” and “old” Hungarian citizens because a large number of seasonal workers in the EU and abroad had to travel in some cases hundreds of miles to be able to vote in their home country’s elections, while newly acquired citizens could easily vote by mail. Since the Fidesz party was the one that granted this right to ethnic “Hungarians beyond their borders”, it was expected that these new citizens would express support for this party. Indeed, according to the latest information about the latest parliamentary elections, 95% of the Hungarian minorities in the Carpathian Basin voted for the Fidesz party. It fits of course the party’s aspirations: no matter in what minority situation they are in, Hungarians belong together, Hungarians are one nation: once a Hungarian, always are Hungarian. As far as borders are concerned, theirs or ours, old or new, some appear to be truly in the eye of the beholder!

Reports on demographic statistics:
Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia
Magyar Közlöny (Hungarian offical journal for publications of laws) (link)
Nemzeti Választási Iroda (National Office of Elections) (link)

The author of this blog entry is Gyula Zsombok, a graduate student in French Linguistics at the University of Illinois. Gyula is planning on continuing his work on graduate studies at the PhD studies in Illinois and wrote this text in the ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ seminar in the spring of 2014.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Reflections While Waiting on a Bus in Riga

by James Fleener

A product of the profit motive:
Trilingual menu in Riga.
“If you feel to be a cat…”
(source: author’s personal collection, picture taken in Riga)
On a cold and snowless February dusk, I found myself in Riga with a couple of hours to spare while waiting for a bus to Tallinn.  I had been making rather brisk progress through the cities of Eastern Europe in my attempt to be a proper flâneur in Balzac’s sense of the word.  I started in Prague where I immediately bought a train ticket for the latest night train anywhere else.  With ticket in hand, and therefore lodging determined for the night, I spent the next 14 hours feasting my eyes on the streets of Prague.  I strolled up and down Wenceslas Square dozens of times, imagining the events of the 1968 Prague Spring with sadness and the 1989 Velvet Revolution with consolation.  After walking around Prague late into the night in snow bathed by the yellow street lights, I boarded the train to Bratislava where I woke upon my arrival in the wee hours.  I took note of the train schedule there so that later, when the ticket counter opened, I could later buy passage to Budapest.  The next morning in Budapest, I realized that I was going to need a longer sleep and booked my next leg all the way through to Warsaw.  Once in Warsaw, I covered many miles of territory in spite of the deep snow there.  Eventually I found myself a perch at the edge of the Stare Miasto where I stayed for an hour, staring across the Vistula into the trees on the other side until I could bring 1944 into focus and see the Red Army at camp, doing nothing while the Uprising died.

A product of policy makers:
Protests in Riga to Preserve Russian schools. The Russian sign reads:
“[Prime Minister] Straujuma, leave the children alone!” (2014)
With the next morning, I woke in Riga with a hangover from imbibing too many historical perspectives.  After gorging on the gastronomy of the eye for days, I needed pause.  I was from a place where a one hundred year old building was considered ancient and age was a bad thing, and now I was overpowered by how far I could see into the past by looking up at buildings and making their memories my own.  I tried walking the streets of Riga early in the morning and found that I kept losing my sense of direction because the streets bend and connect at odd angles in the old town.  Every time I came out of a street, the morning sun was not at all where I expected it to be.  J’ai perdu mon nord not only literally, but figuratively I thought.  As soon as the Occupation Museum opened, I went there and spent the next four hours, hoping to learn something while letting my internal compass recover.  Latvia was amongst Stalin’s spoils of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, only to be taken by Hitler a year later…so much for “honor amongst thieves.”  The Soviets took it back in 1945 and kept possession until the Singing Revolution ended it in 1991.  The museum was full of photos and artifacts from that long journey from the end of post-WWI sovereignty, through five decades of occupation, and back again.  When I took to the streets after, I knew already that I couldn’t contemplate the 1940s which were far too full of killing and subjugation.  Instead, I started chronologically near the end of the occupation years.  I went to the Freedom Monument and thought about the decades under Moscow’s rule that Latvians were arrested for laying flowers at her feet.  The walk through the surrounding park takes you past monuments of those who died at the Barricades as Gorbachev’s forces did what they could to hold power from Moscow right up to the end in 1991.  The 1990 Nobel Peace Prize certainly tarnished quickly.

Walking around Riga, one finds the public signs in the Latvian language as expected, just as there are Czech signs in Prague, Slovak signs in Bratislava, Magyar in Budapest and so forth…with a fair representation of English in most places where international travelers are likely to be.  You will also soon notice in Riga that many of the young men walk with the same stilted, to and fro swagger as Putin, swinging only one arm while keeping the other still.  According to 2012 figures, 39.1% of Riga is of the Russian ethnicity.  Immediately I wondered if this peculiar gait that I witnessed was strictly Russian and if so, does it have its basis in genetics, military training, or mere hero worship.  Up to this point in my trip, I was able to leave each city with a residue of hope for their futures.  Now, suddenly in this first visit in a city of Russia’s “near abroad” I felt something decidedly different.  On the one hand, it was 2007 and I was in a NATO and EU member state.  Soviet military badges and hats were being peddled as kitsch in the booths beneath the overpass on Gogola iela.  On the other hand, gas prices and Putin were pirouetting inexorably upward together, forming storm clouds which could resurrect derelict warships, tanks, and bombers and burnish the decay from rusting Kalashnikovs.

Ethnic Russians numbered only 5% less than ethnic Latvians in Riga, yet there are no bilingual public signs.  I felt like I was in a place of tension where something had to give way someday, sooner or later.  Over the previous days I had already too acutely imagined the history of too much war and for the moment I was happy to console myself that the threat of Russian revanchism and irredentism seemed hollow and distant.  Still, what value is there in the Latvian government needlessly disenfranchising such a large population of ethnic Russian residents by imposing a language policy that discounts them?

My time in Riga was up.  I had purchased my ticket to continue north and just needed to find a way to pass a little time indoors as the temperatures began dropping quickly.  I would have sought refuge in a coffee shop as I often do, but I already had too many espressos for the day.  Also, I had forgotten which coffee shop to avoid after causing a blackout when I pushed too hard while trying to plug in my laptop using the wrong adapter.  So instead I ducked into the cinema a block away from the station and sat back in my warm and cozy theater seat to watch King Kong in English but with both Latvian and Russian subtitles.  It occurred to me at that moment the extent that economic considerations can certainly drive equanimity and egalitarianism in minority language practices.  The newsstands, restaurants, and cinemas represented Latvian and Russian languages equally, why not the streets and schools too?  

The author of this blog entry is James Fleener, a senior at the University of Illinois in the spring of 2014. James was majoring in political science, planning on continuing his education at the University of Illinois, and returning to Europe for extensive study in the future. He wrote this text in the seminar PS 418: Language and Minorities in Europe.

Cookie Settings