While Hungary is very much concerned about the fate of the 2-3 million ethnic Hungarians living in neighbouring countries, significant efforts are made to stop or slow down assimilation within its own borders.
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 by language and culture. There are 13 recognised nationalities, including the Roma or Romanies: in spite of considered as politically incorrect, the old name of Gypsy (cigány) is still widely used, both in their community and in official documents.
The proportion of all nationalities is estimated to be as high as 6-8%. In Hungary, however, 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. In 1995, 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 which raise the issue of minorities within the political principles and priorities of the European Union. The Roma constitute the largest minority group and, at the same time, pose a major challenge to social policy, with important cultural implications. 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 7.49 % of the population. All Hungarian Roma speak Hungarian and only 17% of them speak Hungarian as a second language. Due to the very high correlation between those with a Roma background and crucial social problems (unemployment, poverty, exclusion etc), the fate of this minority group is among the greatest challenges to Hungarian society and government. 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. On the other hand, because of the indifference of the majority society and its authorities, and partly also due to the lack of necessary coherence inside the Roma community, plans such as the establishment of a representative national Roma cultural centre have constantly been postponed for decades; many times the plans failed due to planning objections by local inhabitants.
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. In spite of these endeavours – behind which sometimes manipulations connected to so-called ethno-business are suspected – assimilation is occurring and it is feared to continue. As part of the local elections in the autumn of 2014, 241 000 people, 3.1% of the total electorate, registered to vote for one of the 13 nationality lists. The Roma represented the majority with 160 000, followed by Germans, Croats and Slovaks with 41 000, 12 000, and 11 000 respectively. With the exception of the Roma, the number of votes in each minority decreased since the previous elections in 2010. The existing sociological and ethnographic traits of minorities could melt into nostalgic relics of culture.
The cultural rights and situation of the new minorities (immigrants) is a marginal issue in spite of those tens of thousands of immigrants who passed through Hungary towards Western-Europe in 2015. On the state level, there is no culture-based or culture-related project on the state level for the integration of migrants. As for inclusion policies or strategies, it is the civil sphere’s activity which worth attention here. The oldest and best known NGO for intercultural dialogue is Artemisszió Foundation, currently focusing on the migration crisis. In 2015, a new grass root activist organisation of volunteers was formed: MigSzol. Their language courses, regular gatherings include intercultural exchanges.
Immigration figures have been still very low compared to the typical destination countries of migration. Only 1.4 % of the entire population is of foreign origin. The immigration authorities recorded 140 000 foreigners living legally in Hungary in 2015, 206 000 in 2011, 171 000 in 2008. Since the overwhelming majority (70%) of the immigrants living in Hungary is ethnic Hungarians from a neighbouring state (Romania, Ukraine, Serbia, Slovakia), they do not constitute a cultural minority. Asians are the most dynamically growing minority groups, the Chinese being the largest new minority community, with a population of 13-15 thousand by 2015.
As stated previously, in the Hungarian context, policies for minorities always include concern regarding Hungarians living abroad. The enforcement of the Schengen border requirements, in effect from 2008, hampers cultural co-operation between Hungarians on the two sides of the border with Ukraine and Serbia, which remain third countries for the EU, and to a smaller extent with Romania and Croatia.