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Their only sin was being Hungarian

2021.04.12. 13:06
Their only sin was being Hungarian

In 2012 the Hungarian Parliament unanimously voted to make April 12th the Memorial Day commemorating the ethnic Hungarians deported from (Czecho)Slovakia. 74 years ago, about 100 000 Hungarians, residing in territories that once belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary, were forced to leave the former Czechoslovakia. The Beneš Decrees, which provided the legal framework for this ethnic cleansing, are still part of the Czech and Slovak legal systems despite their EU membership.

Today we commemorate the 100 000 ethnic Hungarians from Upper Hungary (now mostly present-day Slovakia) whose citizenship was revoked and belongings confiscated, who were expelled from their communities and forced to leave their homeland because of the Beneš Decrees. In the post-World War II reestablished Czechoslovakia, a government program from Košice on April 5 1945, designated the local Hungarians and Germans collectively responsible for the „disintegration” of the country. Among the decrees established by President Edvard Beneš between May and October of 1946, 33 indirectly or directly restricted the basic rights of the native Hungarians and Germans.

Resulting from the Decrees, 36 000 people with Hungarian citizenship from before 1938 were expelled in the first wave of deportations; the Hungarian population of Pozsony (Bratislava), Kassa (Košice) and Komarom (Komárno) was relocated, and their properties were expropriated. According to the population exchange agreement with the Soviet occupied Hungary, the Czechoslovak authorities could relocate as many Hungarians from Slovak territory to Hungary as the number of Slovaks that left Hungarian territory voluntarily. However, despite the terms of the Prague government’s agreement, only 59 774 volunteered for relocation to Slovakia while 76 616 Hungarians were deported to Hungary; meanwhile, Hungary ran an official relocation recruitment program in vain.

Deported Hungarians, Galánta, 1947
Fotó: Fortepan / Kozma János

The first train carrying displaced Hungarians departed on April 12, 1947, and the last on June 5, 1949. During this time, the designated families and their belongings were taken to Hungary on almost a daily basis. Meanwhile, the reslovakisation also started, which “gave Slovaks who had become Hungarian over the centuries the opportunity to return to the mother nation”; in practice this meant masses of Hungarians in Slovakia applied to be part of the Slovakian community to avoid confiscation and deportation, and to acquire civil rights.

During the campaign, 423 000 intimidated and threatened Hungarians submitted their applications, and the authorities declared 327 000 of them Slovak. At the Paris Peace Conference, Czechoslovakia, which had the full support of the Soviet Union, even wanted to go as far as to unilaterally relocate the remaining 200 000 Hungarians left after the reslovakization, but this was vetoed by the Americans.

For a time, several thousand Hungarians were held in labor camps. Czech historians estimated their numbers between 30-40 thousand, while the Sudeten German allies estimated it at 250 thousand. Following the communist takeover in February 1948, alleviation ensued. The October 25, 1948 law restored citizenship for Hungarians after taking an oath of allegiance, but the forced reslovakization declarations were only invalidated in 1954.

Edvard Beneš Czech politican
Fotó: ma7.sk

Neither Czechoslovakia after the fall of communism, nor the independent Slovakia and Czech Republic after 1993, prioritized invalidating the Beneš Decrees and returning the confiscated properties on their agenda. A Slovakian resolution on September 20, 2007 stated that „the legal and property relations arising from the decrees are unquestionable, inviolable and unalterable”. In another resolution from December 3 2012, the Parliament stated that it considered it necessary to commemorate the Hungarians deported from the Czechoslovak Republic as a result of the Beneš Decrees.

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