Magyarization, Forced Assimilation of the Slovaks

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Note: The practice of "magyarization" by the Hungarians in the middle to later part of the 19th Century most probably was the reason the Myerchin and Vanyo families came to the United States in early 1883, where they settled in and around Shamokin, Pennslyvania.

Ethnic cleansing: the elimination of an unwanted ethnic group from a society, as by genocide, forced migration, and/or forced assimilation.

Mutual relations between the present Hungarian minority and the Slovak majority have a sadly unique historical background. Slovakia was a part of the Greater Hungarian Kingdom which in turn was incorporated as an mostly equal partner into Austria-Hungary in the nineteenth century, and as such the Slovaks suffered from ethnic cleansing. Indeed, this abominable practice was so commonplace, as well as adopted as an official law, that it spawned its own name, Magyarization. Under the Hapsburg Empire and later under Austria-Hungary, the Magyars, or ethnic Hungarians, dominated the numerous nationalities around them, and especially in the years from the Ausgleich, which gave the Hungarians autonomy in Greater Hungary, of 1867 to the end of the first World War in 1918 engaged in this doctrine of cultural genocide. It is ironic that just after receiving political autonomy from the Hapsburg Empire under the 'compromise', or Ausgleich, the Hungarians quickly turned on their still disenfranchised neighbors in the region. Countless Croats, Rumanians, Serbs, Slovaks, Slovenes and Ukrainians were subjected to Magyarization, or forced assimilation. The Hungarians fell right into their new role, becoming even more cruel than their previous Teutonic adversaries who employed a similar practice of Germanization decades before. Yet, despite a harsh national oppression and attempts at a coercive Magyarization of all the ethnic minorities in the Hungarian Monarchy, the national consciousness of the Slovaks continued to develop.

It was in 1878 that active Magyarization of Greater Hungary reached its climax. Further, one must realize that Magyarization was not just about the forced use of the Hungarian language. The doctrine's supposed justifications have root in the then Hungarian notion that a native of the Kingdom of Hungary could not be a patriot unless he spoke, thought, felt and totally identified as a Magyar. Slovaks who remained true to their ancestry, and it must be remembered that the Slovaks were in the region long before the Hungarians tribes arrived, were considered deficient in patriotism. The official political view was that a compromise with the Slovaks was impossible; that there was but one expedient, to "ethnically cleanse" them, to wipe them out as far as possible by assimilation with the Magyars. Slovak schools and institutions were ordered to be closed, the charter of the Matica Slovenska was annulled, and its library and rich historical and artistic collections, as well as its funds, were confiscated. Inequalities of every kind before the law were devised for the undoing of the Slovaks heritage, language and culture and turning them into "proper" Hungarians.

The Hungarian authorities in their endeavor to suppress the Slovak nationality went even to the extent of taking away Slovak children to be brought up as Magyars, and forbade them to learn their language and their history in school and church. Over two million Slovaks, who were predominantly Catholic, clung to their language and Slavic customs, but the clergy were educated in their seminaries through the medium of the Magyar tongue and required in their parishes to conform to state imposed restrictions. Among the 750,000 Protestant Slovaks the Government went even further by taking control of their synods and bishops. Even Slovak family names were Magyarized, and any vocational advancement was only given through Hungarians channels.

All these ethnic cleansing policies on the part of the authorities tended to produce an active Slovak emigration abroad while stifling economic factors exacerbated the situation. A few immigrants came to America in 1864 and their success brought others. In the late seventies the Slovak exodus was well marked, and by 1882 it was sufficiently important to be investigated by the Hungarian Minister of the Interior and directions given to repress it. The American immigration figures indicated the first important Slovak influx in 1873 when 1300 immigrants came from Hungary, which rose to 4000 in 1880 and to nearly 15,000 in 1884.

Countless other Slovaks became so called 'Hungarians of Slovak descent', only barely cognizant of who their ancestors were. Whole villages became Magyarized, unable to communicate in their original language and forbidden to learn about their history. What's more disturbing is that this process bred a societal self-hatred, where anything Slovak was to be hidden or admonished. As with other similar national tragedies these "New Hungarians" became the most vociferous supporters of Magyarization and further perpetrated that which was brought upon them.

Unfortunately, assimilation of Slovaks and other minorities in Hungary proper continued until the reforms of the 1990s. This is evident with Slovaks having marginal representation in the political process in the current nation-state of Hungary - even though they were a sizeable minority at the end of the first world war. What is most telling however is the stark comparison between Slovak communities abroad. In relatively far away nations such as Croatia, Ukraine, Slovenia, and even Serbia, Slovak communities continue to thrive yet close by, in neighboring Hungary, these communities are all but non-existent. Surreptitiously and with slow attrition, Hungary has today completed the goals of Magyarization in Hungary, creating one of the most homogenized and "ethnically pure" states in modern Europe.

Currently, many Hungarians are either unaware or refuse to acknowledge this horrific and shameful part of their history, or, similar to Holocaust denial, they provide a bevy of apologias that purport to justify the ethnic cleansing policies of Magyarization, either by citing similar examples in other regions or by claiming such policies were executed under political necessity. It is time for the Hungarian people to clearly and loudly own up to the wrongs of the past, pay reparations, and create a national monument for this cultural genocide. Many modern disputes such as the Gabcikovo dam project, have their roots in the former Hungarian government's policy Magyarization which bred a psychology of ethnic superiority among Hungarians and condescension against anyone who wasn't a pure Hungarian. Minority baiting is still, unfortunately, part of the political landscape in this region and until these past wrongs are address it will continue to be so.

The failure of the Hungarian nation, and the Magyar people, to offer an public act of contrition, and the activities of current national extremists who glorify Magyarization, only exacerbates current conflicts. Only when the Hungarian people come face to face with the horrors of their past can they genuinely coexist with the numerous ethnicities they so cruelly tried to culturally exterminate.



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