You don’t have any idea how many times I had to clarify everything about this. Just imagine this situation, which happened to me 2 years ago.
I’m in North Africa, more precisely in Tunisia, enjoying the summer holidays, drinking some beer and strolling around the beach. A local guy comes to me and starts telling that I look like a football star. (soccer, translated for you, dear americans). That sounds great, isn’t it? Actually it was. After this we started to talk about some more serious stuff, like the girls on the beach, how hot the weather is today, etcetera, etcetera. Then came the question I was always confused about:
“Where are you from?”
Every single time in this moment a really fast chain of thoughts is going trough my mind. How I want to be percieved? As a Slovak or a Hungarian? Is the one whom I’m talking to is intelligent enough to understand what’s the real case? Do I really want to tell him what’s the real case?
Yes, because the case is really not as easy as this questions sounds. I’m part of the Hungarian minority living on the southern parts of Slovakia. You may say, there are tons of minorities all over the world, that’s not as unique as I percieve this whole topic. Let me ask you a question.
Are you living in a minority?
See? It’s not that common. But let me explain what happened here in Central Europe.
The whole stuff started a thousand year ago. Back then the medieval Hungarians where coming from Asia and occupiing the Carpathian basin. This happened in 896 A.D.. In this time Slavic tribes called Great Moravia were also living all over the territory. These times are still matter of debates among Hungarian, Slovak, Czech and Polish historians. Everybody wants to claim this time as their own, because everything happened (or even not happened) after is derived from it.
But what’s not feeding these modern time debates is that after the conquest of the Carpathian basin the Hungarians where the ruling nation here (Hungary in these times consisted of territories we call nowadays Slovakia, part of Serbia, part of Romania, part of Austria, part of Ukraine). In the high times of the empire Hungary had 3 different seas (now it has zero of them). This was around the middle of the 14th century.
Later the lovely Habsburgs came to marry and in the meantime they became the rulers of Hungary. Then the Ottomans ruled the territory for 150 years (we saved Europe’s ass). After this the Habsburgs came back (the truth is they never left). This was the status quo for hundreds of years, when in 1848 some revolutionary young men in Budapest started a revolution, which lasted for a year and a half. This is a significant happening regarding nationalities in Hungary. This was the first time when Slovak and Croatian minorities had a voice (a deciding voice) in the faith of Hungary, but not the last.
The most notable one is after the WWI on the 4th of june, 1920 and it’s called the Treaty of Trianon. It was a disaster for Hungary. The country lost 2/3 of it’s territory and population. The roads, raliways were cut at the borders, the well functioning economic structure was totally turned over. And the city I was born was no longer part of Hungary. Suddenly everybody there was considered Czechoslovakian.
After this there was a short time when the situation was like pre-Trianon but basically since that unnatural step in 1920 everything is messed up like that here in the Carpathian basin. The easy solution would be, as president Woodrow Wilson suggested in that time, that the borders should be there where are the borders of nationalities living in the area. This would create nation states able to build on their clear identities. Instead of this the writers of the Treaty chose to destabilize Central Europe for long decades and punish Hungary more than it deserved.
Nowadays the effects are still felt. The Hungarians in all neighboring countries are losing their identities because of the intense assimilation policies pursued by those states (Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine). For example in Slovakia those numbers are overwhelming. Between the two censuses (2001 and 2011) the Hungarian minority in Slovakia is less by 62 thousand people. This is an exetremely significant decrease. In context this means that in 2001 the 10,8% of Slovakia’s population was Hungarian, in 2011 only 8,5%. This also equals to smaller power in getting trough minority interest, which basically creates a spiral of assimiliation. These recent aspects are beautifully, but bitterly caught in a recent study written by a Harvard scholar.
What about now? Should that Tunisian guy know this whole story?
The truth is that I told him. I actually draw a map of pre and post Trianon Hungary in the sand. It was one the most memorable moments of my life concerning my identity. And you know what’s the best? He understood what I wanted to share with him. We became friends.