Hungarians outside Hungary – the twisted story of dual citizenship in Central and Eastern Europe

In 2010, Hungary amended its Citizenship Act to pave the way for a preferential naturalisation of Hungarians living abroad. This was met with great alarm among Hungary’s neighbours: As a consequence of the Trianon Peace Treaty in the aftermath of World War I, by which Hungary lost large swaths of its territory, a considerable part of the citizenship of Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, Ukraine and other states nowadays consists of ethnic Hungarians. Four years after, tensions between Hungary and its neighbours with respect to dual citizenship are still palpable, since the number of new Hungarian citizens increases continually and already exceeds half million.

The amendment of the Hungarian Citizenship Act gives any non-Hungarian citizen, whose ascendant was a Hungarian citizen or who demonstrates the plausibility of his or her descent from Hungary and provides proof of his or her knowledge of the Hungarian language, the opportunity to apply for naturalization on preferential terms since 1 January 2011. For those who meet that description, the criteria of assured livelihood and permanent residence in Hungary no longer matter, and no exam of basic constitutional knowledge is required any more.

Since Hungarians living outside the borders are mostly citizens of neighbouring states, their dual nationality depends on the attitude of these states. Romania and Hungary concluded an agreement on solution and prevention of cases of dual nationality in 1979, in line with the practice of socialist states at that time, but that agreement was terminated in 1990. Currently Romania belongs to the states that recognise dual nationality, since Romanians living abroad have access to Romanian citizenship similarly to the Hungarian regulation. The main purpose of this rule is to promote the gaining of citizenship for Romanians living in Moldova ...

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