Hungary and Slovakia Begin Citizenship Tug of War

May 30, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015

Representatives of the Hungarian Parliament sing the national anthem on May 14, during the re-formation of Hungarian Parliament. A Hungarian nationality law passed on May 26 grants any ethic Hungarian living in any country citizenship.  (Attila Kisbenedek/Getty Images)
Representatives of the Hungarian Parliament sing the national anthem on May 14, during the re-formation of Hungarian Parliament. A Hungarian nationality law passed on May 26 grants any ethic Hungarian living in any country citizenship. (Attila Kisbenedek/Getty Images)
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia—A unique battle for citizenship has erupted between Slovakia and Hungary, as both countries go at it through the passing of laws.

A controversial law passed last week by Hungarian leaders can grant citizenship to ethic Hungarians living in any country. In response, Slovakia passed a law restricting dual citizenship and making it so that any Slovakian citizen who knowingly applies for citizenship in another country will be stripped of their Slovakian citizenship.

The Hungarian nationality law was passed on May 26 by the newly elected Parliament, which has the nationalist Fidesz Party as the majority. Under the new law, any ethic Hungarian living in any country can be granted citizenship if they can demonstrate knowledge of the Hungarian language and proof of their ancestry.

With up to 10 percent of Slovakia made up of ethnic Hungarians—mostly located in the southern part of the country where the two countries meet—most Slovak politicians assessed the new law as a security threat, with some of them labeling it a direct provocation.

There are historically border issues between Slovakia and Hungary. After the first world war, the Treaty of Trianon was signed that divided the Austro-Hungarian Empire and cost Hungary 72 percent of its territory.

The recent law is generally regarded by Slovakians as a first step to increase the influence of Hungary abroad, with potential claims of autonomy or revision of the Treaty of Trianon.

The Slovakian Parliament was unusually swift in passing a counter law.

The harsh laws, which can revoke the citizenship of Slovakians may have been a bit hasty. Informal research by local media in Slovakia showed that most Hungarians are not interested in applying for Hungarian citizenship. However, some analysts warned that the move will effectively decrease the number of Slovakian citizens.

Some critics questioned whether the new law is unconstitutional, since the Slovakian Constitution guarantees that no one can loose their citizenship against their will.

Relations between Hungary and Slovakia, both members of the EU and NATO, and located next to each other in the middle of Europe, have been largely peaceful since the second world war. There have only been slight exceptions to the good relations—falling on the shoulders of top politicians from both countries from national parties, which were formed after the fall of communism in 1989.

The exchange of threatening words between national party leaders has won them points in their own countries and has been the fire behind their campaigns.

On June 12, long-awaited parliamentary elections will be held in Slovakia. By then, it will be seen how many political points the Slovakian nationalist party gained in their recent move.