Thursday, November 11, 2010

Romania’s Hungarians Cautious About Dual Citizenship

The 1.5-million-strong Hungarian minority obtained new rights to obtain Hungarian passports this week – but so far few have taken the plunge.

Marian Chiriac

Members of Romania's ethnic Hungarian minority started registering for dual Hungarian citizenship this week – but the pick-up rate for applications has been slow.

Starting on Monday, the three Hungarian consulates in Romania have received applications from members of the 1.5-million-strong minority, but only about a thousand had applied by Thursday.

Most were from Miercurea Ciuc, in southeast Transylvania, where around 1,000 Szeklers - another name for the Hungarians - showed interest in obtaining dual citizenship.

But in Transylvania’s main city of Cluj, which Hungarians call Koloszvar, there were only around 50 applications and in the capital, Bucharest, only two.

Hungary adopted legislation in May making it easier for the 3.5 million ethnic Hungarians outside the country to obtain dual citizenship. Most live in Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine.

"The issue of dual citizenship is not yet of major interest for most Hungarians,” Zoltan Sipos, 30, a journalist at a Hungarian newspaper in Cluj told Balkan Insight.

“But more people will apply for dual citizenship in future if they find a good reason to do so,” he added.

Sipos, who obtained Hungarian citizenship in the early 1990s, said he never used his extra passport to settle or work in Hungary.

“It wasn’t of interest for me. I would still be Hungarian even without the Hungarian citizenship,” he said.

For many ethnic Hungarians in Romania, possessing Hungarian citizenship is a matter mainly of symbolic importance. Both Romania and Hungary are members of the European Union and NATO.

“There are some advantages associated with Hungarian citizenship,” said an ethnic Hungarian artist in Romania who did not want to be named.

“Hungarians can more easily obtain a US visa than Romanians and their youngsters have better access to research grants and study opportunities.

“People who have worked in Hungary are also entitled to better pensions compared to those from Romania,” the artist added.

About 7 per cent of Romania's 22 million citizens are ethnic Hungarian.

Some parts of the community, especially the 600,000 Szeklers, have long campaigned for an autonomous region in Transylvania, which became part of Romania after Austria-Hungary lost World War I.

Romanians seem indifferent to the issue of dual citizenship for Hungarians. “It’s their right,” says Viorel Popa, 38, a graduate in history in Bucharest.

“We gave ethnic Romanians in Moldova the same rights a few years ago; it’s the right of kin-states to offer those rights to people of the same origin.”

Bucharest officials also have no issue. “We have no objections to the Hungarian law making it easier to grant Hungarian citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living abroad," President Traian Basescu said.

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