Reactions in Ukraine
By EUDO CITIZENSHIP expert Oxana Shevel
12 July 2010
Unlike in neighbouring Slovakia where the May 26 amendment to the law on Hungarian citizenship that granted persons of Hungarian ancestry residing abroad the right to Hungarian citizenship led to a domestic outcry, in Ukraine there has not been any official reaction so far. According to the 2001 census, Hungarians are the 7th largest ethnic group in Ukraine, numbering 156,600. They are concentrated in the Zakarpattia oblast (region) in the south-west corner of the country where they constitute the second largest ethnic group (after Ukrainians), numbering 151,500, or 12 percent of the region’s population. Given that within the region the Hungarians are further concentrated in the districts along the Hungarian border, and that today's Zakarpattia was part of the Kingdom of Hungary and became part of the Soviet Ukraine only in 1945, one can expect Ukraine to be as sensitive as Slovakia and Romania to the dangers of Hungarian irredentism that some suspect lurking behind the new Hungarian law. The Hungarian law also relates to Ukraine’s long-standing concerns about, and opposition to, the principle of dual citizenship. This opposition stems first and foremost from the Ukrainian elites’ fears that dual citizenship with Russia can endanger Ukraine’s sovereignty and potentially even territorial integrity, given that Ukraine’s ethnic Russians are concentrated in Ukraine’s regions bordering Russia, especially in Crimea where they constitute the majority. Even though there is no dual citizenship agreement between Russia and Ukraine and Ukrainian legislation does not recognize dual citizenship, Russia has been issuing Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens since the 1990s. According to some estimates, as many as 100,000 people in Crimea now hold both Ukrainian and Russian passports.
Reflecting such concerns over the implications of dual citizenship for sovereignty and territorial integrity, a number of political commentators, experts, as well as the opposition in Ukraine expressed their negative attitude to the Hungarian law. For example, on 25 June the Zakarpattia branch of the Committee of Defense of Ukraine formed in May by leaders of some ten opposition parties approved a document where the Hungarian law is classified as “carrying a threat to the national security of Ukraine,” while the head of the rightist Ukrainian People’s Party Stepan Khmara warned that dual citizenship for Ukrainian Hungarians will be but “the first step, after which the process will extend to other regions of Ukraine.”
The lack of official reaction can be explained by several factors. First, in a highly regionally polarized Ukraine, the Zakarpattia oblast is one of the very few regions not firmly associated with a particular political camp. Former President Yushchenko’s “Our Ukraine” party won the 2006 and 2007 parliamentary elections in Zakarpattia, Yushchenko’s opponent Viktor Yanukovych carried the region in the first round of the 2010 presidential elections, and then lost it to Yulia Tymoshenko, Yushchenko’s former ally, in the second round. Because no political force “owns” the region, it may be strategically preferable for national-level politicians to refrain from taking a strong stand on issues sensitive to the voters in the region. Second, the politics of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine is not as politically sensitive as the Hungarian issue in Slovakia or Romania. There is virtually no irredentist rhetoric emanating from the Hungarian minority in Zakarpattia, nor do the Hungarians and their leaders challenge Ukrainian state sovereignty over the region. Ukrainian commentators agree that Ukrainian Hungarians regard the prospects of dual citizenship in purely practical rather than political terms. Had it been not Hungary but Russia to issue a similar law, with Crimea rather than Zakarpattia primarily affected by the law, a stronger official reaction from Ukraine would have been assured.
As for ethnic Hungarians themselves, the amendment to the Hungarian law is more consequential for Hungarians in Ukraine than for Hungarians in EU member states, such as Slovakia or Romania. Even though some 75 percent of Hungarians in Zakarpattia are estimated to be holders of the “foreign Hungarian” card established by the 2001 Hungarian Status Law that gives holders benefits in educational, cultural, and socio-economic spheres, Hungarian citizenship would extend to Ukrainian Hungarians an additional major benefit – the right to free travel to and within the EU. Ukraine is not an EU member state and its citizens need visas to enter the EU.
At the same time, those Ukrainian citizens who obtain Hungarian passport will also be incurring some risks, in particular the risk of losing their Ukrainian citizenship and, as a result, some rights, most notably as the right to inherit agricultural land, which according to the Land Code of Ukraine can only be inherited by citizens of Ukraine. Ukrainian legislation does not permit dual citizenship. If a Ukrainian citizen also holds a foreign passport, in relations with Ukraine s/he is recognized only as citizen of Ukraine (Article 2, para 1 of the 2001 Ukrainian Citizenship Law). Furthermore, the 2001 Citizenship Law (Article 19, para 1) provides that if a Ukrainian citizen voluntarily acquires the citizenship of a foreign state, s/he loses his/her Ukrainian citizenship. The loss of Ukrainian citizenship is not automatic, however, but requires a formal procedure for each individual case. This procedure entails a governmental body (domestically the Interior Ministry and abroad the consular services ) to submit a formal petition with supporting documents, including a document proving that the citizen in question has acquired a foreign citizenship. The final decision to deprive a person of Ukrainian citizenship is taken by the Citizenship Commission of the Presidential Administration and signed by the President. As there are no bilateral agreements between Ukraine and other states on sharing such information there are few ways for the Ukrainian authorities to obtain legal proof that a Ukrainian citizen has acquired foreign citizenship short of catching a citizen with two passports in hand . Even though the practical risk of losing Ukrainian citizenship as a consequence of acquisition of the Hungarian citizenship is small, the theoretical and legal possibility is there. As one recent newspaper article put it, by deciding to acquire a Hungarian passport, Ukrainian Hungarians may want to keep in mind the old proverb “Not everything that glistens is gold.”
Links and references
“Угорщина узаконила подвійне громадянство. Чому мовчить Україна?”
[Hungary Legalized Dual Citizenship: Why is Ukraine Keeping Silent?], at unian.net, 22 June 2010 (Ukrainian)
“Закарпатський обласний Комітет захисту України виступив проти подвійного громадянства і утисків влади” [Zakarpattia Regional Committee of Defense of Ukraine Spoke Against Dual Citizenship and Repressions by the Authorities], at zakarpattya.net.ua, 26 June 2010 (Ukrainian)
“На Закарпатті люди масово отримують іноземні паспорти” [In Zakarpattia People Are Obtaining Foreign Passports En Masse], at tyachiv.info, 1 March 2009 (Ukrainian)
“Проти нового закону Угорщини про подвійне громадянство протестує тільки Словаччина” [Only Slovakia Protests Against the New Hungarian Law on Dual Citizenship], at radiosvoboda.org, 26 May 2010 (Ukrainian)
“ "Чужий" паспорт” [‘Foreign’ Passport], at experts.in.ua, undated (Ukrainian)
“Барони і барани. Вибори в Закарпатті.” [Barons and Rams. Elections in Zakarpattia], at lb.ua, 11 February 2010 (Ukrainian)
"Угорська акція виявилася «золотою»" [Hungarian share turned out to be “golden”], in mukachevo.net, 22 January 2010, in Ukrainian.
[Народники переживають, щоб не відновили подвійне громадянство” [People’s party is worried about dual citizenship again becoming a possibility], mukachevo.net, 20 May 2010 (Ukrainian)
V. Andrienko, S. Brytchenko, V. Subotenko, S. Chekhovych, Naukovo-praktychnyi komentar Zakonu Ukrainy “Pro hromadianstvo Ukrainy" [Scientific-practical commentary on the law of Ukraine “On Citizenship of Ukraine"] (Kyiv: Lesia, 2002), in Ukrainian. Especially pp. 28-30, 120-121, 129, 198, 214-215.
Slovak Parliament reacts to Hungarian citizenship reform with restrictions on dual citizenship
by EUDO CITIZENSHIP expert Dagmar KušaThursday, 27 May 2010
In a reaction to the change of the Hungarian citizenship law on 26 May, the Slovak Citizenship Act has been modified on the same day. The amendment provides that if a Slovak citizen acquires the citizenship of another state "by an act of will", that is neither by marriage nor by birth, the person will automatically lose Slovak citizenship.The Slovak amendment was adopted merely 17 days before general elections was supported by 90 MPs - from the ruling parties SMER, HzDS and SNS. The Christian Democrats joined from the opposition. The debate was heated and no doubt fuelled by the upcoming elections. SNS leader Ján Slota stated that any Hungarian citizens acting as enemies can be dealt with by deportation and HzDS frontman Vladimír Mečiar talked about the threat of the "third war in Central Europe" posed by the policies of FIDESZ, the party in government in Hungary. The opposition criticised the amendment as a mere reacation to the Hungarian act on citizenship and pointed out that many young people who applied for citizenship elsewhere will lose employment opportunities due to the changes. Some legal experts claim the new law is unconstitutional, as the Slovak Constitution states that the Slovak citizenship cannot be taken away against person's will, while others claim the Constitutional provision is identical to that in the Czech Republic, which has a similar restriction on dual citizenship as the law just passed in the Slovak Parliament.
Source: "Orbán zvolal náš parlament" [Orban called the meeting of our parliament], SME, 27.5.2010
By EUDO CITIZENSHIP expert Dagmar Kuša
The ruling party of the Slovak coalition government SMER-Sociálna demokracia (SMER) reacted immediately and fervently to the news of the election of a FIDESZ government in Hungary and to one of FIDESZ’s stated goals of instituting dual citizenship for ethnic Hungarians living abroad.
The Slovak government declared that they are ready to take the same measures as their Hungarian counterparts took when the Slovak language law was passed (in 2009) and that is to complain to OSCE and other European institutions.
Prime Minister Fico, who has called an operative meeting of the Government on 14 May, is pushing for preventive measures before the bill on dual citizenship is discussed in the Hungarian Parliament. These could include a prohibition of dual citizenship in Slovakia and introducing the possibility of loss of Slovak citizenship upon acquisition of citizenship of another state. The Slovak National Party even called for an emergency session of the Slovak Parliament (which did not materialise).
In Slovakia, these changes would require a change in the constitution and a number of laws related to citizenship.
“Fico by odobral občianstvo tým, čo prijmú maďarské” [online], SITA. May 16, 2010. Accessed on May 21, 2010
“Dual citizenship angers Fico”, The Slovak Spectator. May 17 2010. Accessed on May 21, 2010
The leader of the political party Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) who represents the Hungarian minority and whose party is now in government, Marko Bella, expressed his support for the initiative explaining that “it is a wish of the Hungarians living in neighbouring countries, an old wish, to obtain more easily the Hungarian citizenship if they apply for it, which has more symbolic than pragmatic value”. Nevertheless, UDMR estimates that many ethnic Hungarians will apply for it.
In Romania, the news also mention that the added gains of dual citizenship for the ethnic Hungarians in Romania are more credibility, no visa requirements for the US (which still are imposed on Romanian citizens) and access to scholarships in Hungarian universities for their children.
Compared with the Education Law that was recently passed in the Romanian Parliament, according to which national history and geography will be taught in the language of the minority, the initiative of FIDESZ for dual citizenship for the ethnic Hungarians has created little tensions among the Romanian politicians. While the Social Democrats said they are in favour of the law because it is an internal issue of Hungary, the governing Democratic Liberal Party, which rules in coalition with the UDMR, preferred to refrain from making statements.
Romania’s mild reaction to the FIDESZ initiative can be explained by the severe economic crisis Romania is currently facing. Even more important may be the fact that, although it is a small political party, UDMR plays a key role in preserving the majority of the current government in the Romanian Parliament.
In order to calm down the neighboring countries, Hungarian politicians evoked 'the Romanian model of citizenship acquisition', referring to the way Romania offered citizenship to Moldavians. The new beneficiaries of Hungarian citizenship would enjoy this status from 20 August, a national day for Hungary. Romanian newspapers underlined the point that Romania would be governed by Ministers who would be Hungarian citizens as well.
According to the latest Romanian Census (2002) there are 1.431.807 or 6.6% ethnic Hungarians living in the country.
“Doua pasapoarte pentrru etnicii maghiari:romanesc si unguresc. Budapesta se prega teste sa ii faca cetateni pe toti maghiarii din afara granitelor” [Two passports for the ethnic Hungarians: one Romanian and one Hungarian. Budapest prepares to make citizens all Hungarians from abroad] in Gandul, 18 May (Romanian)
“Ce castiga maghiarii ardeleni de pe urma cetateniei FIDESZ?” [ What do the ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania gain with the “FIDESZ” citizenship?] in Romania Libera, 20 May (Romanian)
"Cetatenie la toti maghiarii, dupa 'Modelul Romanesc'" [Citizenship to all Hungarians, after the 'Romanian model'], in Adevarul, 18 May (Romanian)
"Romania ar putea avea un guvern cu dubla cetatenie" [Romania could have a government with double citizenship], at Impactnews.ro, 21 May (Romanian)
Romanian and Hungarian Ministers of Foreign Affairs discuss Hungarian citizenship law
By EUDO CITIZENSHIP research collaborator Andrei Stavila
19 June 2010
According to Romania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Teodor Baconschi Romania wants to be sure that the application of Hungary’s new citizenship law respects international agreements as well as ‘the spirit and the letter of international law’.
Baconschi said Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Janos Martonyi had assured him ‘that Budapest will apply all amendments to the citizenship law in such a manner that discrimination on ethnic grounds and any form of mass acquisition of citizenship will be avoided’, said Baconschi after meeting with his Hungarian counterpart.
Teodor Baconschi also declared that it is possible that soon Romanians in Hungary will have a representative in the Hungarian Parliament. ‘Martonyi also told me that there is a project for the reform of the Hungarian state in the direction of a parliament with fewer members and gave me two good news for the Romanian community in Hungary – the possibility of having soon a representative in the Hungarian Parliament, as well as the examination of the possibility of declaring the Romanian Orthodox Church in Hungary a historical Church’, said the Romanian Minister. He added that this measure would improve ‘the legal condition and social visibility’ of the Romanian Orthodox Church in Hungary.
These remarks were made in the context of an official visit of Minister Martonyi to Romania on 19 June.
Source: Mediafax online (in Romanian)
By EUDO CITIZENSHIP/CITSEE expert Nenad Rava
There have not been major reactions so far in Serbia to the proposed amendments to the Hungarian citizenship law. The new developments regarding Hungarian citizenship do not appear to be generating public debate in Serbia. The main reason is that the situation with Serbian Hungarians differs substantially from that of Hungarians in other states. First, there is a relatively small percentage of Hungarians in Serbia and most of them are concentrated in the border regions in Serbia’s province of Vojvodina. Serbian Hungarians are now socially well integrated and their parties actively participate in both provincial and state governments. There is no irredentist rhetoric and most Hungarian municipalities nowadays prioritize good relations with Serbian institutions over developing close cooperation with the Hungarian government. Second, Serbia introduced a very similar approach to citizenship in which naturalization can be accomplished by mere proof of Serb ethnicity or other ethnic group from Serbia without residency requirement. Hence, it is unlikely that the Serbian Government would criticise the adoption by another government of the very same policy it is implementing within its own citizenship regime. This includes the active promotion of dual/multiple citizenship. Third, with Serbia on the white Schengen list, there are fewer incentives for Serbian Hungarians to seek Hungarian citizenship. Beside a symbolic aspect, only the opportunity to become EU citizens, with all rights attached and especially free movement rights, may matter and motivate individuals to seek Hungarian citizenship. Even so, there is probably only a small number of Serbian Hungarians who would now wish to migrate and have not done so already. Nevertheless, if political circumstances in Serbia change drastically (a possible, but rather unlikely outcome) one should not completely exclude eventual future ethnic turmoil.