The Model Minority – Hungarians in Slovenia: On The Right Side Of History

On several occasions I have been walking down the street in a Hungarian city when I suddenly notice a decal on the back windshield of a car. The decal has a shape that looks somewhat like Hungary, only larger. The colors of it are the same as those of the Hungarian flag. The decal also includes the Holy Crown of Hungary topping a shield with the Double Cross. I have since learned that these decals show an outline of the Kingdom of Hungary, as it existed prior to the post-World War I Treaty of Trianon which shrank Hungary by two-thirds. These decals are a symbol of tacit support for Greater Hungary, but not much more than that. I doubt the drivers of many of these automobiles are ready to enlist for a fight to expand the frontiers, most are engaging in a symbolic gesture. Nonetheless, such symbols can be found all across the country. I have seen holographic postcards which depending on how they are turned, show either the nation of Hungary or the Kingdom of Hungary. I have heard long winded expressions of sorrow for “the lost lands”. There are monuments to Trianon scattered throughout the country. There is even an unofficial Trianon museum in Varpalota. My main memory of it is of hardly any heating and very little lighting in the dead of winter.

Stuck on it - Pre-Trianon Hungary stickers

Stuck on it – Pre-Trianon Hungary stickers

Holding Themselves Hostage – A Land Called Trianon
Then there are the lands taken away by Trianon whose mere mention offers another level of trauma. Mention Transylvania and a quiet resignation permeates the ensuing conversation. The same goes for Felvidek (Upper Hungary, present day Slovakia) or to a lesser extent, Ujvidek (the Vojvodina region of northern Serbia). These lands seem to hold the Hungarian historical imagination hostage. This makes it strange when I reflect upon the fact that not once have I ever heard or read a Hungarian bemoan the lands that were lost to Austria or Slovenia, known respectively as the Burgenland and  Prekmurje. There is a reason for this, specifically that both territories ethnic Hungarian population was quite small. The size and scale of the lands lost due to Trianon was so vast, that what amounts to small slivers of territory has not made much of an impression. Yet both places act as outliers for ethnic Hungarians in Trianon lands, because they enjoy rights and relations in these countries which could hardly be any better off if they actually lived in Hungary. This is especially true for those Hungarians who now live in Slovenia.

To get an idea of just what a break with historical precedent the Treaty of Trianon was, consider that the land known today as the Prekmurje, was under the control of Hungarians as early as the 10th century. Hungarians put down deep roots in the fertile soil of the land they called Muravidek. They were not the only ones, as Slovenes had been in the area since the 9th century. In a period stretching over almost an entire millennium, the Prekmurje was one of the most stable areas in central Europe. It was under either Hungarian or Habsburg rule during that time. All that changed with the end of World War I. In 1919 the Prekmurje was under four different administrations. The swirl of chaos that engulfed the region was put to an end by troops from the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. When the Treaty of Trianon went in to effect there were 14,000 Hungarians in the Prekmurje. They made up approximately 15% of the population. This number began to dwindle even though Hungary regained the area for several years during World War 2.

Lendava - with the Esterhazy chateau above the town

Lendava – with the Esterhazy chateau above the town (Credit: Pierre Bona)

Last Of Their Kind –  A Magyar  Mentality
By and large Hungarians in the Prekmurje have enjoyed an unexciting, if not to say anonymous existence. This continues today. Though the population considering themselves ethnically Hungarian in the region has dropped to just 6,200, their presence is still noticeable, specifically in the larger town of Lendava and the villages of Hodos and Dobrovnik, all within ten kilometers of Hungary’s southwestern border. Four out of every ten citizens in Lendava are Hungarian and the municipality is bilingual. It is not hard to feel the Hungarian historical influence in the town, because its main tourist attraction was once the property of Hungary’s most illustrious noble family. What could be more Hungarian than the House of Esterhazy? One of the Esterhazy’s manor houses stands just above the heart of Lendava. The hillsides surrounding the town are covered with vineyards, the mild climate is an excellent place to grow grapes.

Further out in the countryside stands one of the villages that consists almost entirely of ethnic Hungarians. Dobrovnik, not to be mistaken for the famous walled coastal Croatian city, is a tidy village full of neat houses that stretches out along the roadways. The one roundabout in the village lies at its most heavily trafficked point, the junction of highways 439 and 441. This is also where the 18th century St. James Church stands with its faded façade and cracked paint, built by who else, but the Esterhazy clan. The nobility endowed the Hungarian areas of Slovenia with their most lasting architectural features. In return, the locals fought hard and loyally for Austria-Hungary in the Great War. Dobrovnik lost twenty-seven of its men in the war. Losses of such a high proportion of manpower in small villages like Dobrovnik were one of the reasons there was no one left to fight for the old Kingdom’s borders after the war.

Ethnic Hungarians at the Lendava railway station in 1941

Ethnic Hungarians at the Lendava railway station in 1941 (Credit: fortepan.hu)

Better Off Without You – Prosperity & The Prekmurje
Dobrovnik may have been lost to its mother country, but the Hungarians have done pretty well for themselves there. The village is well kempt, clean and prosperous looking even though agriculture is in perpetual decline. The same can be said for Lendava. No one is asking, but it is doubtful if the Hungarians of the Prekmurje would prefer living across the border with their ethnic kinsmen. In Slovenia, the Hungarian language has status as an official regional language. Special rights for the Hungarians are enshrined in the Slovenian constitution.  They even have a special representative in the national parliament who has veto rights over legislation affecting the Hungarian minority.

Possibly the greatest factor keeping the relative handful of Hungarians in Slovenia is money. Hungarians vote with their pocketbooks rather than their feet when it comes to calling Slovenia home. The Gross Domestic Product per person is $8,000 dollars greater in Slovenia than Hungary, plus Slovenia uses the Euro which has an excellent exchange rate compared to the Hungarian forint. Life is pretty good for Hungarians in Slovenia, it is hard to imagine that if history had been different they would be any better off.

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