An Act on National and Ethnic Minorities was passed in 1993 (Act LXXVII), declaring minorities to be constituent elements of the state, defining their collective and personal rights. National and ethnic minorities – or, since an amendment in 2011, “nationalities” – are defined as ethnic groups that have been living in Hungary for at least one hundred years and differ from the majority in language and culture. There are 13 recognised nationalities. In Hungary ethnicity is considered a private matter: systematically collecting data according to ethnic background is not allowed under the Personal Data Protection Law. National censuses and elections of minority governments are all based on voluntary self-identification. In the 2011 census, 6.5% of the population declared that they belong to one of the minority groups. This however is not the exact rate of minorities as 14.1% did not answer this question, while on the other hand multiple identities could be declared, which many people did, resulting in a 107.4% total.
As was discussed above, nurturing the cultural and language requirements of the rapidly dwindling percentage of ethnic minorities is a priority. Its function is the opposite of inclusion, the aim being to reduce the pace of assimilation. To a certain extent this serves to justify the country’s involvement in the protection of the Hungarian minorities over the border. This is also why Hungary was among the first to sign and ratify the framework agreement of the Council of Europe on the protection of national minorities. Hungary also takes part in discussions that raise the issue of minorities within the political principles and priorities of the European Union.
In 2020, 200 000 foreigners lived in Hungary, making up about 2% of the population (KSH). Their overwhelming majority (70%) are ethnic Hungarians from a neighbouring state (Romania, Ukraine, Serbia, Slovakia), who do not constitute a cultural minority. Asians are the most dynamically growing minority group, with 19 700 being double the figure for 2012.
In a society where the current ethnic homogeneity is politically a stated asset, it is no wonder that cultural inclusion of immigrants is out of the agenda. NGOs active in intercultural activities feel the stigma of Soros agents upon them.
The official slogan is of a work-based society, which encourages the population to work instead of relying on aid and subsidies. Taking up work is the most favoured process of the inclusion of those who are socially deprived.
The issues of social deprivation and cultural inclusion overlap regarding the Roma or Romanies, one of the 13 recognised minorities. Although considered as politically incorrect, the old name of Gypsy (cigány) is still widely used, both in their own community and in official documents. The inclusion of the Roma population is a fundamental challenge in Hungary. During the 2011 census, 315 000 Roma were recorded, i.e., about 3.2% of the population. However, according to the 2015 estimation of the European Roma Rights Centre, approximately 750 000 Roma live in Hungary today. That is 7.5% of the population, many of them living in poverty and exclusion. On the other hand, the greatest number of Roma with full higher education in the whole of Europe is in Hungary, both in absolute and relative terms. Among the first 24 Hungarian members of the European Parliament, two were Roma: one of whom kept her seat in the 2009 elections and was the rapporteur for the EU strategy on Roma Inclusion. Hungarian Roma artists are especially famed in music, both individually and in ensembles.
National federations of minorities have consultative status, and often veto rights in relevant legislative matters. Their elected local government representatives in the villages and towns, and on the national level, have significant rights and growing resources – which, by nature, are to a great extent spent on culture.
As part of the local elections in the autumn of 2019, 318 000 people, making up 4% of the total electorate, registered to vote for one of the 13 nationality lists. The Roma represented the majority with 211 000, about a third more than in 2014. They were followed by Germans, Slovaks, and Croats with 55 000; 12 000; and 11 000 respectively. Since one can choose multiple identities, the total of the votes is beyond 100%. Under the conditions of rapid assimilation, a considerable share of these votes is cast next to the Hungarian identification, as a tribute of one’s ancestors’ culture. In the 3 177 settlements altogether 2 188 minority local governments were elected. In hundreds of smaller places there are none, while especially in larger cities more than one minority has elected bodies – in Budapest all 13 are represented.
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