Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. August 2006

14.4. Identitätsmanagement von Minderheiten im Alpen-Donau-Adria-Raum
Herausgeber | Editor | Éditeur: Klaus-Jürgen Hermanik (Universität Graz)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Identity Management of the Hungarian Cultural Societies in Slavonia-Baranya (CRO) and Lendava Area (SLO). A Comparison

Lilla Hervanek (University of Pécs, Hungary)


This paper will give a view on the present situation (Autumn 2005) of the Identity Management (IM) of the Hungarian minorities’ cultural societies in the Croatian Slavonia-Baranya area, and the Lendava area in Slovenia.(1)

The main focus will be on the present mechanism(s) of self organization (Identity Management from the inside) and on the ways these organizations link to the majority population, to the other minorities living in the area and to the Slovenian/Croatian and Hungarian governments (Identity Management from the outside). The paper will compare and contrast the main societies mentioned below, show the similarities and differences from an ethnological point of view.

The aim of my research was to approach the same social subject (Hungarian minority) in two countries recently formed after the breakdown of Yugoslavia. This case study is based on a comprehensive pilot fieldwork done in Osijek/Eszék and Beli Manastir/Pélmonostor in Croatia and in the Slovenian Lendava/Lendva. The paper will give an actual basic analytical view of the Hungarian associations.

Geographically Slavonia and Baranya are the area between the Drava and Sava rivers, lying to the east of the capital city, Zagreb. Nowadays there are only three Hungarian villages in the Slavonia area, Korođ/Kórógy, Laslovo/Szentlászló and Hrastin/Haraszti which are isolated from the other Hungarian settlements in Croatia. Two-thirds of the Hungarian population lives in Baranya. The settlements in Baranya are found in a small block, but the Slavonian villages are rather scattered.

In Slovenia the Mura River is the geographical border of the Hungarian minority block, since the Hungarian settlements are to the east of the Mura along the border. The Lendava area in Slovenia is very close to the Slovenian-Hungarian border. In this area inhabited by the Hungarian minority there are 5 self-governing units, the Lendava area is one of them. There are 24-25 settlements belonging to the Lendava unit.


The Hungarian Cultural Societies in Slavonia and Baranya

There are two main societies in these areas. One of them is the HMDK (Horvátországi Magyarok Demokratikus Közössége / Hungarian Democratic Community in Croatia), which is found in Osijek/Eszék. This society was established in 1992, following the establishment of the new Croatian state after the Yugoslav-War. The aim was to have a society for the protection of interests on various fields, such as religion, culture, education, sport and politics (if the latter is necessary). They work as an umbrella society, and have over 40 base societies. About 70% of the base societies are active in Baranya. The estimated number of active members is 3000. The work in the HMDK is voluntary; the members are not paid for their work. About the membership: the average members are from the degree holding middle class, age 25-35. Many of them studied at universities in Hungary, some members of the management even live in Hungary. Everybody can join the society who identifies himself / herself as belonging to the Hungarian culture. As a result of this policy there are members who are not fluent in Hungarian which join the club. It sometimes happens that children of mixed marriages join the folkdance group and learn Hungarian in the group. It is important to note here, that the self-identification of a ‘would-be member’ is an accepted filter of joining this society. This kind of politics provides that the society is open for anyone to foster and / or learn the Hungarian language and culture. Theoretically even Croatians could be supporting members, but only Hungarians can be members with full powers. Women work in the society in the administration, but they work mainly as teachers, and pedagogues in the Education Centre.

The society believes that its self-legitimacy comes primarily from two things:

One is that they have political influence in the Croatian Parliament, the Sabor. To understand this we have to know that the Hungarian minority is considered to be autochthonous in Croatia. The minority has the right to delegate one member to the Croatian Government for the protection of their interests and rights. Since 1992 the HMDK member has won every election, which means that the HMDK has delegated the one Hungarian member to the Sabor, who takes over the political responsibility for all Hungarians in Croatia. Otherwise the society does not take up a political role - only if it is necessary.

The other thing providing legitimacy is the Croatian Hungarian Educational and Cultural Centre in Osijek. The Centre was established in 1999 according to the Bilateral Act of the Hungarian and the Croatian state signed in 1992. The Bilateral Act disposes of the mutual collaboration between Hungary and Croatia which means that the Hungarian state provides protection of rights for the Croatian minority living in Hungary, and Croatia also undertakes to protect the rights of the Hungarian minority living in the state. According to this Act the Hungarian Government erected the Croatian Hungarian Educational and Cultural Centre, and the HMDK maintains this bilingual school, and therefore, though indirectly, the society maintains the schools in the Hungarian villages of the region. Education in the Centre reaches from kindergarten up to high school. There are cultural events held periodically in the Centre, too. These cultural events are usually connected to the school, but sometimes the society or other organizations organize their events there.

The society HMDK estimates the Croatian Hungarian population at about 22'000. This number is higher than the official 17'000 (in 2001). About 11'000 people of the Hungarian population speak the Hungarian language. The Hungarian population is decreasing as is the Croatian population.

The society has a close relationship with other crossborder-Hungarian societies. It has very good relationships (cultural and educational) with some Hungarian societies in Serbia. There are exchanges and other cultural connections with Hungarian schools and societies. The society receives money from the Croatian state, and can obtain money through tenders, competitions from Hungary (which amounts to a maximum of 30% of the budget). They run a printing house in Osijek/Eszék named HunCro, and print there e.g. their newspapers.

The HMDK organizes a lot of forums and festivals. They always commemorate the Hungarian national holidays. Among the newest ones is the commemoration of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, when the society lays a wreath at a memorial within an organized festival. The organizers usually invite representatives from Hungary, too.

Another goal of this society is to educate perfect bilinguals, because that could help Hungarians to integrate. Parallel to this the society is working to form a positive national identity in the Hungarians. Since they emphasize the importance of the Educational and Cultural Centre, another aim resulting from this is to build a dormitory for pupils to ease their travelling between the home and the school.

The other major Hungarian minority society in Croatia is the MESZ (Magyar Egyesületek Szövetsége/Community of Hungarian Societies) which is situated in Beli Manastir/Pélmonostor. It was founded in 1997 for the protection of the interests of the Hungarian minority. Its aim is to represent the interests of the Croatian Hungarian minority in the fields of education, media, cultural activities, sciences, economy, social questions, and to build up effective connections with other societies with a similar profile. The MESZ is an umbrella society; there are 35 base societies all over Croatia under their wings. Out of the profiles mentioned above the emphasis is laid on cultural aims. Up to now this society does not have a political representation. The members have not been counted, but there is staff working at the "headquarters" in Beli Manastir/Pélmonostor who actually get paid . The staff members are mainly young people at about the age of 20-40. Women in the society fill positions in administration, of pedagogues and in editorial jobs. There are actually more women working in MESZ than men.

The requirement for those who want to join the society is to be Hungarian and speak Hungarian. Those who do not speak Hungarian, but identify themselves as Hungarians cannot get onto the staff. It is important to make a note about the location of MESZ. Beli Manastir/Pélmonostor is "strategically" situated in Croatia. It is a centre of a public administration district (of a županija), so the society can play a decisive role in the life of the district. In this sense this society in Beli Manastir/Pélmonostor is in a much more influential situation than the other one in Osijek/Eszék. Another advantage for the minority society to be situated in Beli Manastir/Pélmonostor is that there are more Hungarians than in Osijek/Eszék. The official number of Hungarians in Beli Manastir/Pélmonostor is 980. The number of the Hungarian churchgoers who attend Hungarian masses is 300-400 which is the number the MESZ accepts. It is worth noticing that, since the MESZ has been active in Beli Manastir/Pélmonostor, year by year more and more people identify themselves officially as Hungarians. MESZ more or less accepts the official demographical data (17'000 Hungarians), and admits that the Hungarian demographical data show a negative tendency - though the Croatian demographical data show a negative tendency, too. Given these circumstances, it is unique that the number of the Hungarians has increased in Beli Manastir/Pélmonostor. It is even more interesting, if we know that during that period the number of inhabitants of the city has not changed. Therefore people have felt freer to admit their minority identity since MESZ has been active there. This unquestionably legitimates the society.

The society MESZ believes that their legitimacy is proven by a tender they won, too, which they were invited to applyx for by the Hungarian Illés Foundation. Thanks to this financial help, the MESZ could build a dormitory. This dormitory will be a student's hostel for those pupils who attend the school in Beli Manastir/Pélmonostor and live in the surrounding area. Another new establishment of the society is the Sztárai Mihály Educational Centre. Since it is a very new foundation, its activity is so far restricted to organizing playhouses for children, and fostering the mother tongue.

There are a number of base societies situated in the same building as the MESZ. These distribute organizing tasks among each other to cover the whole region. They organize a lot of cultural and folk art events, folk dancing festivals, mother tongue fostering camps for children, etc. The society MESZ always commemorates the Hungarian national and religious holidays. Like the HMDK, this society commemorates the 1956 Hungarian revolution, too, by the same pattern.

Further the MESZ has a good relationship and mutual exchanges with various Hungarian and crossborder-Hungarian societies. To organize new societies is also a feature of their profile. Therefore the umbrella society MESZ underlines the importance of building up a network of Hungarian societies. Perhaps it is easy to recognize the relationships built up with crossborder-Hungarian associations, and both the MESZ and HMDK have bonds with Serbian Hungarians. There would have been close relationships among the Hungarian minority organizations in the former Yugoslavia. So, it is quite understandable that these organizations get in touch with each other, as well as being open for new connections.

MESZ obtains its financial support from the city Beli Manastir/Pélmonostor, from the Croatian state and they can apply for money coming from Hungary. Among their future plans are the extension of the Educational Centre, establishing a Hungarian scansen, and educating, coaching grown-ups. It is clearly visible from the data that the two Croatian Hungarian societies emphasize different activities, though there is some overlap.

The HMDK underlines its political and educational activities as well as its running the Croatian Hungarian Educational and Cultural Centre. The MESZ emphasizes its cultural activities and the steps they have taken to unify the Hungarians, and developing a positive national identity. In the future MESZ wishes to care for popular education on the grounds of cultural and social questions, while HMDK is keen to maintain the official bilingual education at school. Both societies stress that the number of mixed marriages is increasing and the children of such marriages will usually feel to have a Croatian national identity - it is easier to socialize as a majority member than as a minority member. It is inevitable that the two Educational Centres as well as the organizations compete with each other mainly in the overlapping fields.


The Main Hungarian Cultural Society in Lendava

The main Hungarian minority cultural society in the Slovenian Lendava/Lendva area is the MNMI (Magyar Nemzetiségi Művelődési Intézet/Hungarian Minority Cultural Institution). The society was established in 1994 for the general transmission of Hungarian culture. This is not a civil organization; its profile is public service. As a result of the Slovenian minority politics, the state contributed to its foundation. The Hungarian minority is considered to be an autochthonous historical minority in Slovenia, and for this reason it is ‘positively discriminated’. There are two minorities protected by the constitution of the Republic of Slovenia: the Italian and the Hungarian. Even in the former Yugoslavia, Hungarians were treated as a small, but regionally important minority. This means that since 1974, but it has been definitely stressed even more since 1992, that the autochthonous minorities gain territorial autonomy in their areas. They can delegate one representative to the Government, and have a double self-government system which assures their autonomy. The double self-government system means that the Slovenian state assures them of a political network. Parallel to the Slovenian state institutions the Hungarians may have a Hungarian institutional system. So, as an example, parallel to the Slovenian official self-government in Lendava/Lendva there is a minority Hungarian self-government. The Hungarian language is regionally the official language in the area. The Hungarians have even a veto right concerning the Hungarian issues. The Minority Self-Government established the bilingual elementary school in Lendava/Lendva. The bilingual secondary school is funded by the Ministry.

About Lendava/Lendva it is worth mentioning that it is quite difficult to reach the city from Hungary. There are few indirect connections but there is no direct line to Lendava/Lendva. The entire public transport system (train and bus connections) ends in the village Rédics in Hungary, then there is a 15 km gap between this village and Lendava/Lendva, and then the public transport starts again in Lendava/Lendva. These issues are important in the light of the need for maintaining relationships with Hungary. Though Lendava/Lendva is at the border and the city is open for tourists and other visitors, it is quite hard to reach by means of public transport.

The MNMI staff members work in this institution in a full-time job; respectively they are paid for their job. The membership of the institution is not counted, since it is a public organization. There are at a minimum 13 basic civil societies and about 60 small associations. These make up the whole area. The institution has no political activities. (The self-government deals with those issues.) The society MNMI is a Slovenian establishment so it is financed fully by the state. If some additional aid is needed there are subventions from Hungary. Their Hungarian aid comes through tenders of the Illés Foundation, this reaches at maximum of 30% of their budget.

The society is situated in the city of Lendava/Lendva in the building of the Bánffy Cultural Centre where other minority institutions are situated, too. There is the Minority Self-Government and the Slovenian "headquarters" of the Illés Foundation, a café and a bookshop. There is a Hungarian printing house and a Hungarian Scientific Organization in Lendava/Lendva. A wide range of popular and scientific Hungarian books and newspapers can be found in this shop.

The Slovenian census counted about 6'000 Hungarians in the state. Since the Hungarian settlements are found in a block between the Mura River and the Hungarian and Croatian border this number for the state population is valid for this area. This region is 45-50 km "long" along the border from Hodoš/Hodos at the Hungarian-Slovenian border to Pince/Pince at the Croatian-Slovenian border. The minority situation is very interesting in this territory, because apart from the 6'000 Hungarians there are another ca. 9'000 people who are connected with the Hungarian ethnicity. This can happen as a result of a social situation in three steps: there are a lot of mixed marriages between the Hungarians and the Slovenes; 80% of children of these marriages will be identify themselves as Slovenes; but these children will be connected to the Hungarian minority, and it usually happens that they speak Hungarian as first language. Therefore we see a unique situation in Slovenia: more people speak Hungarian (which is however an official language in this region) than identify themselves as Hungarians. This social phenomenon is distinctive within the Hungarian minorities around Hungary. Here it makes socialization easier if people speak both languages. There was a wave of emigration from the region after the Yugoslav-War which was mentioned during the interviews. Since it was for economical reasons, people did not emigrate to Hungary but to the capital city, Ljubljana.

The MNMI organizes various forums. The association has built up close relationships with crossborder Hungarian and Hungarian societies. The exchanges with Serbian Hungarians and Slovakian Hungarian are the ones most emphasized. There are very active cultural and economical bonds with the counties Zala and Vas in Hungary. Lendava/Lendva is very active in maintaining regional contacts. The forums mentioned above are not only used for fostering Hungarian-Hungarian friendships. The MNMI underlines its mission of fostering Majority-Minority cultural relationships. They wish to build up a positive Hungarian identity within the Hungarian population. It is also their goal to mediate between the majority and the minority. It is important for the society to show a true, positive picture of the Hungarians.

The present cultural activities of the MNMI are: organization of festivals, Hungarian fairs, meetings; fostering the mother tongue; running the publishing house, and undertaking scientific research in the area. It is not under the wings of the institution, but there is a Hungarian television programme and Hungarian radio programme in Lendava/Lendva. An interesting thing is that in the 19 70's employees came from the Vojvodina to work in these mediums. The future plans are to accomplish a ‘cultural regionalism’ within the Hungarian cultural region they belong to. The MNMI would like to somehow unify the cultural area. Among the future plans is the improvement of bilingualism in the educational system.


Similarities and Differences of the Croatian Hungarian and the Slovenian Hungarian Societies

All these associations, it seems, have a similar Identity Management (IM). Every society is funded by the State and can additionally gain a maximum of 30% of their budget from the Hungarian state. All three organizations have bonds with Hungarian and crossborder-Hungarian organizations. The communication with the majority nation is also similar though it is emphasized more in the Slovenian Hungarian institution. But it is also present in the Croatian Hungarian societies. The Croatian and the Slovenian societies are all umbrella organizations with various base civil societies. In Identity Management, it seems that it is easier for the bigger societies to be accredited by Hungary. Every society finds it necessary to improve bilingualism which helps Hungarians in their integration. Since the Hungarian minority is considered to be autochthonous in Croatia and Slovenia, both states allow the minority to delegate a representative to the Government.

There are similarities in the cultural activities and aims which is their Identity Management from the inside. Every society aims at strengthening the Hungarian Identity through cultural activities, tries to fulfill the needs of the minority. It is necessary to form a positive national, ethnical identity since there are a lots of mixed marriages which usually end up with losing the "possible" Hungarians to the majority. Being Hungarian is losing prestige both in Croatia and Slovenia. Therefore it is a great challenge to turn back this process. For all three associations bilingualism and cultural identity is a possible answer for this social question.

The differences between the social and cultural situation of Hungarians in Croatia and Hungarians in Slovenia are primarily due to a different historical, financial, social and geographical background. Croatia and Slovenia had a different historical participation in the Yugoslav-War. Slovenia’s active participation in the Yugoslav-War was relatively short compared to Croatia’s. Since Slovenia has been stabilized earlier it had more time to elaborate on its minority politics. Slovenia could assure a better financial and social frame for the Hungarian minority - and for the majority population, too. The emigration from Slovenia did not reach as high a degree as it reached in Croatia. So the devastated Hungarian villages and the new settlers formed a very different political and social situation in Croatia. Many of the Hungarians emigrated to Hungary in the 1990’s for economical and political reasons while Slovenia had an inner migration. Many of the Hungarians (and not just Hungarians) migrated to the capital city and to the sea-shore. The emigration tendency from Slovenia to Hungary is negligible.

There is an open political polarization between the two Croatian Hungarian societies. HMDK and MESZ are competing on various grounds, have different politics for achieving almost the same aims. In the Slovenian Hungarian region there may be some political polarizations among other institutions but in the Lendava/Lendva area there is only one official umbrella society.

In identity questions there is a tendency in Croatia that less people identify themselves as Hungarians than speak the language. So there is a definite number of Hungarians who have lost their mother tongue. The situation is a little bit different in Slovenia, because there are more people speaking Hungarian than classify themselves as Hungarians. Therefore it is a possible path of socialization in the Lendava/Lendva to speak the official minority language. The children of mixed marriages - or the 80% mentioned above - will speak Hungarian. This provides positive grounds for a possible Hungarian ethnic identification in the future.



The Identity Management (IM) of Hungarians in Croatia and Slovenia, as we saw, has several similar cultural questions to answer. The Hungarian Identity is losing prestige and being of less interest is an obstructive phenomenon the minority has to deal with. Therefore it is quite necessary to - professionally or voluntarily - manage the ethnic identity. Identity Management from the inside propagates integration not assimilation. Identity Management from the outside can help this integration with mediating between the majority population and the Hungarians, and relating to other Hungarian and crossborder-Hungarian associations.

This present situation has unearthed a lot of ethnological material which will be better understood with future research on Identity Management. Since it is a relevant social problem, the questions put by the researcher can be of high value for the Hungarian minority. Modeling will only be possible if the research continues, so that Identity Management will be seen in its continuity.

In the light of the previous 20 years’ of political changes in South Eastern Central Europe (SECE) and South Eastern Europe (SEE), especially on the Balkans, the present peaceful tendencies will result in progressive European integration of the young Balkan states. This integration will provide multinational and multiethnic regions, which will be followed by changing minority politics and local Identity Management. For this reason the Alpine-Danube-Adriatic region will be an observable cultural breeding ground. Further projects are necessary.

© Lilla Hervanek (University of Pécs, Hungary)


(1) This paper is part of ASO-Project entitled The German and Hungarian Minorities’ Cultural Societies. Identity Management and Civil Society Structures in Slavonia/Baranya (CRO), Slovenia (SLO) and Vojvodina (SCG) . See


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14.4. Identitätsmanagement von Minderheiten im Alpen-Donau-Adria-Raum

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Peter Stachel (Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien): Einige theoretische Überlegungen zu den Beziehungen zwischen soziokulturellen Gruppen innerhalb gemeinsamer politischer Einheiten. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW:

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