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Hungary citizenship law triggers row with Slovakia

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary is expected to pass a law Wednesday that will make it easier for ethnic Hungarians in Central Europe to get Hungarian citizenship but could trigger countermeasures from Slovakia, which strongly opposes it.

Granting dual citizenship to more than two million ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring states has become a symbolic issue for Hungary’s incoming center-right government, which won a strong mandate in parliamentary elections last month.

But the plan has shattered already fragile relations with Slovakia, home to more than half a million Hungarians, and raised tensions there ahead of an election on June 12.

Analysts said if the law is passed, it could lead to a lengthy legal dispute between the two countries even though the legislation is in line with relevant European Union (EU) rules.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, whose leftist SMER is a favorite to form a new government after the June vote, had said the citizenship plan was a “security threat” to Slovakia.

The Slovak government will hold an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday to debate a draft law designed to strip people of their Slovak citizenship if they apply for a second citizenship in any other state.

Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister-designate Zsolt Semjen dismissed Slovak concerns Tuesday as “hysteria,” saying it was part of the election campaigning there.

“We cannot make practicing our most natural rights dependent on what (head of Slovak nationalist party SNS) Jan Slota or Fico come up with,” Semjen said in a television broadcast.


Hungary plans to allow ethnic Hungarians to apply for citizenship without requiring a stay in Hungary if they have Hungarian ancestry, and speak Hungarian, but the legislation does not automatically grante them voting rights.

Parliament is expected to vote on the law Wednesday, which will be applied from January 2011, when Hungary takes over the rotating EU presidency.

“Ensuring Hungarian citizenship for Hungarians living beyond the borders is a basic part of identity,” Semjen said, adding the statute was based on the Romanian example and conformed with EU laws.

“It’s very important for the new Hungarian government to provide this symbolic gesture toward Hungarians beyond the borders,” political analyst Zoltan Kiszelly said.

“The conflict is due to the Slovak election campaign ... if Slota’s party is in the coalition again after the election this will evolve into a lasting conflict, if not, then the intensity of it could subside,” he added.

“But we can expect a dragging international legal dispute.”

Fico has said Slovakia will turn to the European Commission and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to explain its concerns.

The two ex-communist states repeatedly have sparred over the treatment of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia, most recently about a new language law.

There are Hungarians living in Slovakia, Serbia, Ukraine, Romania, and Austria whose ancestors lost Hungarian citizenship as a result of the peace treaty ending World War One.

In another symbolic gesture, the new Hungarian government has submitted a proposal to parliament to name June 4, the anniversary of the Trianon treaty signed after the war, as a day of national unity.

“I fully support it (dual citizenship). It’s an important administrative element of belonging together,” Laszlo Szundi, a pensioner in Budapest, said.

“Those who got stuck beyond the borders have suffered a lot and for them this is a moral reward.”

Reporting by Krisztina Than and Martin Santa in Bratislava