Croatia and Hungary seem odd bedfellows. Croatia a prototypical Balkan nation was a central player in the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s. Its tumultuous post-communist history included times where its territorial integrity and existence were threatened. Geographically Croatia holds a distinct place in southeastern Europe, known for its dramatic coastline, dotted with thousands of islands. Hungary on the other hand may border Croatia, but its recent history has been much more peaceful. Since the collapse of the Iron Curtain it has in fits and starts managed to integrate itself into modern Europe. The Hungarian landscape is pastoral and landlocked, a world apart from the languid Adriatic atmosphere that permeates Croatia. The people of these two nations are also quite different. Hungarians are Magyars while Croats are Slavs. They speak diametrically different languages, unintelligible to one another. And yet for centuries on end these two very different peoples and landscapes were joined politically at the hip. Starting in 1102, the Kingdom of Croatia entered into a union with the Kingdom of Hungary, whereby the nobility of Croatia recognized the suzerainty of the King of Hungary, while keeping their rights and privileges. Only in the final throes of World War I did they part ways. This left a fair amount of Hungarians and Croats on the wrong side of national borders. Famously, millions of Hungarians ended up in newly created nations. Often forgotten is the fact that these borders divided both ways, leaving non-Hungarian ethnic groups stranded in Hungary. This is why there are still pockets of Croats to be found in Hungary today. They are a human tie that still loosely binds these two peoples and nations together, a flesh and blood link that is a living legacy to eight centuries of political and social integration.
Horvath – A Name For Two Nations
Southwestern Hungary is home to most of the nation’s ethnic Croatians. The areas with sizable populations include the counties of Zala, Baranya and Somogy. Due to the carving up of the Kingdom of Hungary in the post-World War I Treaty of Trianon there is still today a focus on the three million plus ethnic Hungarians that still reside in Romania, Slovakia, Serbia and Ukraine. There is little mention about ethnic minorities from these neighboring countries living in Hungary today. In some ways this is understandable. After all, there are only 25,000 Croatians living in Hungary. Ethnic Croatians are so well integrated into Hungarian society that they are barely visible. One of the few notable signs of the Croatian presence in Hungary is the surname Horvath. Though it is Croatian in origin, the overriding majority of people who have this surname are actually Hungarian citizens who speak Hungarian. Somewhere in their near or more likely distant past a Croatian ancestor lurks.
Hungary’s relatively warm relations with Croatia are in stark contrast to more contentious ethnic issues with neighboring countries that are home to large populations of ethnic Hungarians. This is almost certainly due to the fact that Hungary’s relationship with Croatia was historical, covering over 800 years. This was quite different from the troubles Hungary had with Romanians over Transylvania or with Slovaks over Upper Hungary. During the age of nationalism in Europe that surged during the latter half of the 19th century, Hungarian policies towards ethnic minorities can only be described as harsh. Slovak schools were shut down and Romanians were not allowed to use their own language in local government affairs, to name just two among innumerable policies conceived by the Hungarian government to create a majority rather than a plurality of Hungarians in the Kingdom. The situation was different in Croatia. Despite suffering under some Magyarization policies that alienated other non-Magyar nationalities, Croatia gained autonomy beginning in 1868. This allowed Croats a limited, but important degree of self-rule. Of course, World War I changed everything as Croatia became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later to become Yugoslavia). So often overlooked is the fact that the nationalities still remaining in what became the Republic of Hungary were almost completely transformed into Hungarians (while Hungarians in other countries still clung to their ethnic Hungarian identity). This did not just affect Croatians, but other ethnic minorities as well. Consider that one of the most common surnames in Hungary, Toth, is of Slovak origin. Many of those with this surname descended from Slovaks who were Magyarized. It should be mentioned that many Slovaks and Croats in Hungary willfully chose this course, both before and after the war, since being able to speak in Hungarian held decisive social and economic advantages.
Borderline Personality Disorder – A Village Called Kadarkut
Ethnic identity politics in Central and Eastern Europe are enough to make anyone’s head spin. Traveling close to the Hungarian-Croatian border in Somogy County it is common to see bilingual signs. Contrary to beliefs that the diverse peoples of historic Hungary cannot live together peacefully are centuries upon centuries of historical exceptions. Hungarians and Croatians lived and fought side by side for hundreds of years before the rise of nationalism and self-determination made ethnic identity politics a violent and deadly drama. There were many more decades of peace between Hungarians and Croats then there were years of war. Prior to the 19th century they joined in battle on multiple occasions, defending the Kingdom of Hungary against invaders, most famously the Ottoman Turks. This camaraderie has been mostly forgotten, but there are still fascinating examples of communities and individuals that contain traces of lost ethnicities.
For instance there is the village of Kadarkut approximately 30 kilometers from the Croatian border. It is a small village located in a serene rural landscape. Nonetheless, in what appears to be a simple place, with a simple name, it has a symptom of an identity crisis, a hangover from an earlier era. The first part of the village name will be familiar to Hungarians. Kádár is a common surname in Hungary. Its most notable namesake was the Hungarian leader János Kádár who led the country during the era of “Goulash Communism” from 1956 to 1988. Kadarkut is not named for him, but nonetheless his earliest roots are in Croatia. He was born in what is today Rijeka, Croatia, the illegitimate son of a father with a German surname and a mother with a Slovak one. His foster father’s brother had the surname Kádár (this byzantine web of ethnicities almost seems like the stuff of fiction). János Kádár looked up to his foster father and took on his surname. Kádár, whose background was a melting pot of ethnicities, would become the most powerful man in Hungary for over thirty years.
Lost Lineages – The Identity Crisis Of János Kádár
We do not know if János Kádár ever visited Kadarkut, but we do know that Kádár said that he grew up thinking and speaking in Hungarian. What was he? In modern terms by place of birth he was Croatian (though it was part of Austria-Hungary when he was born in 1912) by blood Slovak and German, by choice Hungarian. A little bit of everything. As much as anything he was a product of a uniquely symbiotic relationship between Hungarians and Croatians. That relationship is now ceasing under the pressures of a new kind of existence. The modern nation state has largely put an end to such exotic ethnic lineages. The world of Hungary, Croatia and Eastern Europe will be a less interesting place because of it.