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World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Hungary

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date November 2011
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Hungary, November 2011, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
Comments In October 2015, MRG revised its World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. For the most part, overview texts were not themselves updated, but the previous 'Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples' rubric was replaced throughout with links to the relevant minority-specific reports, and a 'Resources' section was added. Refworld entries have been updated accordingly.
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Last updated: November 2011


Hungary is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Romania and Ukraine to the east, Austria and Slovenia to the west, and Croatia and Serbia to the south. The eastern part of Hungary consists mainly of open plain; west of the Danube the countryside is hillier.


The Hungarians, who speak a Finno-Ugric language, entered the territory of present-day Hungary in the late ninth century. During the Middle Ages, the Hungarians established a kingdom which included Transylvania, Vojvodina, present-day Slovakia, and sub-Carpathian Ukraine. After 1526, Hungary was incorporated within the Habsburg Empire of which it remained a part until 1867 when it became a dual monarchy. This dissolved in 1918. The historic Hungarian state had a strongly multi-ethnic character. Only about a half of its population were ethnic Hungarians, the remainder being principally Croats, Germans, Jews, Roma, Romanians, Serbs and Slovaks.

With the Treaty of Trianon (1920), two-thirds of Hungary was apportioned to neighbouring states, leaving Hungary with a largely homogeneous ethnic population. During the inter-war period, Hungary practised a policy of assimilation with regard to its remaining minorities. Most official documents and signposts were written only in Hungarian and the Hungarian language constituted the sole vehicle of education in state schools.

During the Second World War, tens of thousands of Roma and about 600,000 Jews were deported and murdered. Thousands more Jews emigrated after the war to Israel and the United States. Between 1945 and 1948, forcible resettlement and population exchange resulted in the expulsion of about 70,000 Slovaks and 200,000 Germans. For those members of minorities who remained, the Hungarian government instituted education in the mother tongue and authorized the introduction of bilingual signposts in areas of minority settlement.

During the 1950s, however, the policy reversed as minority organizations were considered 'atoms of pluralism'. The teaching of Hungarian was increased in minority schools, cultural groups went into sharp decline, and no opportunity was permitted for dealing with the authorities in any language other than Hungarian. The policy of assimilation persisted until the 1970s when minority language education, at both elementary and secondary level, was promoted.

During the late 1980s, there was a marked increase in the number of minority organizations and a Secretariat (after 1990, Office) of National and Ethnic Minorities was established within the Ministerial Council to coordinate and oversee policy. Free elections, held in Hungary in 1990, led to the formation of a conservative coalition government. The new government was much concerned with the plight of Hungarian minorities abroad, principally in Romania. As part of its attempt to secure enhanced international standards of rights protection for minorities, the government actively championed the rights of minorities within Hungary itself.

Hungary joined the EU in 2004. Moving towards full membership Hungary had to comply with the accession criteria (often referred to as Copenhagen criteria). In 1993, at a meeting in Copenhagen, the European Council made minority rights protection as one of its key requirements for accepting new members into the EU. With regards to Hungary, the improvement of the situation of the Roma had been emphasized and regularly monitored (see section on Roma).

Joining the EU also meant that Hungary had to transpose EU equality directives into national law. One of the key developments regarding minority rights protection in recent years has been the transposition of the EU anti-discrimination laws through the 2003 Act on Equal Treatment and the Promotion of the Equality of Opportunities. The Act prohibits discrimination based on a number of grounds, including race and nationality and in a wide range of fields. Based on the Act an equality body was established, the Equal Treatment Authority (ETA), in operation since 2005, which is entitled to investigate and sanction discrimination (see below).


Main languages: Hungarian, Romani, German, Slovak

Main religions: Roman Catholicism, Protestantism (Lutheran and Calvinist), Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Judaism

According to the results of the 2001 census, out of a total population of 10,197,119 there were: 190,046 Roma (1.9%); 62,233 Germans (0.6%); 17,693 Slovaks (0.17%); 15,620 Croats (0.15%); 7,995 Romanians; 5,070 Ukrainians; 3,816 Serbs; 3,040 Slovenes; 2,962 Poles; 2,509 Greeks; 1,358 Bulgarians; 1,098 Ruthenians and 620 Armenians.

Other estimates put the number of Roma who are dispersed throughout the country at 5 to 10 per cent of the total population. Germans are widely dispersed throughout the country and their declared numbers have doubled since the 1990 census. The Romanians are concentrated mainly in the eastern part of the country. The Slovaks live in the north of the country and near the Romanian border whilst Croats and Serbs are mostly settled in the south.

There are also an estimated 100,000 Jews living mainly in Budapest who are considered a religious minority. Several initiatives to gain recognition of the Jewish minority as an ethnic or national minority under the relevant law have failed due to insufficient support from the community itself. The initiators were not able to collect the 1,000 signatures required by the law for the recognition of a new minority.

Hungary has a growing immigrant population, dominated by numerous Chinese.


Article 68 of the Hungarian Constitution, amended in 1989-90, declares:

'The national and ethnic minorities living in the Republic of Hungary participate in the sovereign power of the people: they represent a constituent part of the State. The Republic of Hungary shall provide for the protection of national and ethnic minorities and ensure their collective participation in public affairs, the fostering of their cultures, the use of their native languages, education in their native languages and the use of names in their native languages.'

Between 1991 and 2003 bilateral treaties reinforcing the rights of ethnic minorities were signed with Ukraine, Germany, Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia, Romania, and Serbia and Montenegro respectively.

In September 1992, the representation of minorities in the parliament by non-voting deputies received legislative approval, although this measure was subsequently withdrawn by parliamentary amendment in 1994. In June 1995, a Parliamentary Commissioner for National and Ethnic Minority Rights was appointed, who was charged with ensuring the implementation of legislation affecting minorities.

Minority self-governments

The cornerstone of minority rights protection in Hungary is the 1993 Law on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities. The 1993 Act recognized the existence of 13 minorities: Armenians, Bulgarians, Croats, Germans, Greeks, Poles, Roma, Romanians, Ruthenes, Serbs, Slovaks, Slovenes and Ukrainians. A condition for recognition is that the relevant minority has to have been present in Hungary for at least a century. All recognized minorities are entitled to establish Minority Self-Governments (MSGs), which provide wide cultural autonomy for minorities and primarily handle cultural and educational affairs. The president of each MSG also has the right to speak at and attend local government assemblies. The Act, which includes prohibitions against assimilation, discrimination and harassment, makes the provision of minority-language classes compulsory when demanded by more than eight children. The state is obliged to support cultural activities of minorities, and local bodies are instructed to make official documents and street names bilingual in areas of minority settlement. Most of the 1993 law, however, concerns the operation of MSGs. Directly elected minority local governments are to be consulted by the local authorities in all matters pertaining to the minority, and they are given budgets with which to promote cultural activities, including local broadcasting and publishing. A national MSG, elected by representatives of local minority institutions, safeguards minority interests at state level.

Criticisms of the 1993 act include its vague wording in several places, particularly concerning the use of minority languages in national television and radio, and its refusal to permit a full devolution of state functions by grant of territorial autonomy. One unexpected difficulty may be the clause that in settlements where a minority constitutes a majority, the MSG may appropriate the powers of the local authorities. The Act makes no allowance, however, for the rights of local Hungarian minorities-within-a-minority created by this provision.

It is additionally claimed that MSGs lack sufficient resources of their own to be effective. In order to remedy this situation, a Government Decree of 2006 orders that the buildings that were transferred to the 13 national MSGs for free use in 1995 should be passed into their ownership as a free one-off transfer of assets. Critics also contended that as the right to participate in MSG elections was open to all citizens and did not depend upon public profession of membership of a minority, many minority representatives were not from the relevant minority. This affected all national or ethnic minorities, in particular the German, Roma, Romanian, Slovenian and Serbian minorities. Most of them appear to have become involved for financial reasons, since local MSGs are organizations recognized by public law and manage public funds. It also seems that some people elected in this way have tried, by infiltrating Roma self-government organizations, to introduce segregation of persons belonging to that minority, particularly in the education field (see Roma section).



Minority based and advocacy organisations


Hungarian Centre for Human Rights
Tel: (36 1) 342 8734

Hungarian Helsinki Committee
Tel: +36 1 321 4141, 321 4323, 321 4327

Minority Rights Group Europe
Tel: +36 1 279 5765

Office for National and Ethnic Minorities (Nemzeti és Etnikai Kisebbségi Hivatal)
Tel: +36 1 266-6343, 266-6342, 266-6238, 266 -6253

Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities
Tel: +36 1 303 8973

Hungarian Civil Liberties Union
Tel: +36 1 209 0046

Research Institute of Ethnic and National Minorities
Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Tel: +36 1 224 6790


Amaro Drom [Roma]
[A Roma magazine from Hungary]
Tel: +36 1 313 1887

European Roma Rights Centre
Tel: +36 1 4132200

Tel: +36 20 932 9744

Roma Civil Rights Foundation
Tel: +36 1 352 4502

Sources and further reading


Hoensch, J.K., A History of Modern Hungary 1867-1986, London, Longman, 1988.

Institute of Jewish Affairs, Anti-Semitism World Report 1995, London, 1995.

MRG (ed.), Minorities in Central and Eastern Europe, London, MRG report, 1993.

Patterson, G.J., 'Hungary's disappearing Romanian minority', East European Quarterly, 25, no. 1, 1991, pp. 117-23.


Barany, Z., 'Roma: grim realities in Eastern Europe', Transition, 29 March 1995, pp. 3-11.

László Teleki Institute, Régió - Minorities, Politics, Society - English Edition, Budapest, available online at

Liégeois, J-P. and Gheorghe, N., Roma/Gypsies: A European Minority, London, MRG report, 1995.

Public Foundation for European Comparative Minority Research, A Roma's Life in Hungary, Report 2004: Stagnation. Budapest, 2005.

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