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The Situation of Hungarians in Voivodina




The three territorial units known today as the Voivodina (Vajdaság) region – Banat (Bánát), the western third of the former Temes Bánság (Banovina), Backa (Bácska) and Srem (Szerémség) region – have constituted the southern part of historic Hungary for a thousand year. During the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian basin, this territory (Belgrade, Nándorfehérvár, Bolgárfehérvár) was the border region of three empires: the Frank, the Byzantine and the Bulgarian. After the establishment of statehood and of the county system, Temes, Torontál, Bács-Bodrog and Szerémség counties began to organize the life and protection of their inhabitants. By the end of the 14th century, Szerémség and the southern half of the vast territory between the Danube and Tisza Rivers had become the wealthiest, most densely populated and entirely Hungarian-inhabited part of the Kingdom of Hungary, which maintained active relations with Italy. Prior to the arrival of the Turks, there were in Bács 12 castles, 28 towns, and 529 smaller communities in addition to the eight abbeys and provosts, „loca credibile”. Szerémség and Bács were also intellectually the country’s most developed areas, receptive to everything new. The impact of Humanism can be traced there, the early Hussite religious reform movement spread there, and the very first Hungarian-language translation of the Bible was also done there.


The immigration of Serbian ethnic groups fleeing from the Turks already began at the end of the 14th century, mostly in Szerémség. The 1514 peasant revolt led by György Dózsa had twofold tragic consequences for Hungary’s southern border regions: the loss of population and the destruction of fortifications opened the way to the Ottoman conquerors, and for the first time turned Hungarians and Serbs against each other. After the Hungarian army’s defeat in the battle of Mohács in 1526, Turkish armies (and their Serbo-Bosnian-Albanian auxiliary troops) burned down the southern part of the country, massacred those who could not flee or turned them into slaves. Only after the fall of Buda in 1543 did the Turks take full possession of the country’s southern and central regions.


At the time of the first Turk census in 1557-1558, the major part of the population in the northern part of Bánság was still Hungarian. Due to the endless warring, a dual authority emerged in the territories under Turkish occupation. While the king continued exercising the right to grant privileges, the inhabitants also paid to their landlords taxes which were collected by the soldiers of the border forts. The mass immigration of Romanians also began during the Turkish occupation. (alone between 1641 and 1646, 10,000 families fleeing from Havasalföld (Moldavia) settled there.


The area between the Danube and Tisza rivers was liberated in 1686–1687, but temporary peace came only after Prince Eugene of Savoy’s victory at Zenta in 1697 and the 1699 Peace Treaty of Karlovac (Sremski Karlovci). The left bank of the Tisza river, the former Temes Bánság, remained under Turkish rule until 1716, which is reflected in the names of several communities such as Törökkanizsa (Novi Kneževac) and Törökbecse (Novi Bečej).


The Serbian border region at the Maros and Tisza rivers and the Danube was organized in two waves, between 1686 and 1688, and between 1700 and 1702. The Serbs who joined the Christian troops which freed the majority of the Balkans – some 35,000 families under the leadership of Arsenije Čarnojević, Patriarch of Peć (Ipek) fleeing from the Ottoman counterattack – settled in the depopulated and desolate areas of southern Hungary and Slavonia. Freedom charters issued by Emperor Leopold I in 1690 and 1691 granted them community rights and Greek Orthodox church and education autonomy, thereby removing them from under the authority of the landlords, and of the county and Catholic Church authorities. In the Borderguard Region (Vojna Krajina, Militärgrenze) administered by Vienna, Serbs not only protected the Turkish-Austrian frontier along the Sava River, but could also be used against Hungary’s fights for independence. Between 1703 and 1711, 30,000 armed men were mobilized against Ferenc Rákóczi’s troops. The region between the Danube and Tisza rivers south of the Szeged-Szabadka (Subotica)-Zombor (Sombor) line became once again depopulated as a result of the mutually brutal war campaigns and the devastating plague.


The entire territory became property of the Court Chamber and Treasury (bodies of the Habsburg financial administration) where neither the Hungarian landlords nor their serfs were allowed to return. By a directive of the Court’s War Council, the Serbian peasants received benefits at the expense of other nationalities. In 1716, a Crown Province administered from Vienna was established with its seat in Temesvár (Timisoara), and within it several border regions were set up in which Hungarians and Jews were prohibited to settle. In the Temesvár Bánság – which later became Torontál, Temes and Krassó–Szörény counties – 25,000 survivors, the majority of whom were Serbians and Romanians, remained after the ouster of the Turks. Few Hungarian survivors were left in the northern and eastern fringes bordering Transylvania. The disastrous Turkish wars of 1736–1739 and 1787–1790 resulted not only in territorial but also in great human and material losses, especially in the southern part of the Bánság. During the large-scale and organized resettlement of the region, mostly Catholic Germans were recruited. Beginning in 1741, the Tisza-Maros and Danube border regions were eliminated. In return, Zombor (Sombor), Újvidék (Novi Sad), and Szabadka (Subotica), inhabited by a southern Slav majority, were granted or were able to purchase the status of free royal towns. In addition, the privileged Serbian area of Kikinda was established and army officers were granted Hungarian nobility titles. In the period following the Edict of Tolerance issued in 1782, Protestant (mostly Reformed) Hungarians, Germans and Slovaks were allowed to settle down in this region. As a result, communities along the Tisza river, such as Magyarkanizsa (Kanjiža), Törökkanizsa (Novi Kneževac), Óbecse (Bečej), Csóka (Čoka), and Torontálvásárhely (Debeljača), once again became populated by Hungarians.


The period between 1789 and 1914 – the „long 19th century” – was overall a positive era, characterized by population growth, prosperity, economic development, and the expansion of the communication network. Peaceful relations between nationalities prevailed in spite of opposing national reform movements. This period was also marked by the establishment of an educational and cultural institutional network and the reintegration into European economic and intellectual life. In Újvidék (Novi Sad), Serbian and German mayors were alternately elected. In 1864, the Matica srpska, an institution to promote the reawakening of Serbian national identity which is still active today, moved there, and the Serbian high schools in Újvidék and Karlóca (Sremski Karlovci) were among the best ones in the country, deservedly earning for Újvidék the appellation of the „Serbian Athens”.


This process was interrupted by the events of 1848–1949, during which the Bácska-Bánság part of the country suffered the greatest human loss and material destruction because the Vienna government succeeded in turning the Serbian border guards agains against the liberal government in Budapest and against the Hungarians. A well-trained and well-equipped army of several thousand soldiers with cannons terrorized and burned to the ground Hungarian, German, and Romanian-inhabited settlements loyal to the government, and also burned official and registry documents written in Hungarian since 1840. Severe atrocities (such as murders in Újvidék and Kikinda, pyramids of human skulls in Zenta (Senta) and Bácsföldvár (Bačko Gradište), robberies associated with murders and looting in Zombor (Sombor) were committed by Serbian volunteers (servianus) numbering over 2,000. In response, 10,000 Hungarian, Bunievac, German and other inhabitants of Bácska voluntarily joined the National Guard. In November 1848, Lajos Kossuth and the National Defense Committee expressed their willingness to fulfill the majority of Serbian demands, such as free use of the native-language at both the local and the county levels and the recognition of the Serbs as a separate nation. However, territorial autonomy for Voivodina, in alliance with Croatia-Slavonia, asked for since 1790, was rejected. The poorly equipped Hungarian units were small in number and had to retreat, abandoning Zenta and Zombor to their fate. Thus, beginning February 1849, the entire region later known as Voivodina – with the exception of Pétervárad (Petrovaradin) and Szabadka (Subotica) – came for two to three months under Serbian-Austrian authority.


In the „Serbian Voivodina—Temesvár Bánság” which existed between 1849 and 1860, the Serbian ethnic group living alongside the Romanians, Germans and Hungarians constituted a minority. „German and Illyrian”, in practice German, became the official language of the region.


The fifty-year period beginning in 1867 was a true golden age for Hungary and its southern territories. Bácska and Bánság became the richly producing food-pantry of the country and of the entire Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, with plenty of wheat and flour left for export to the European markets. While retaining its dominantly agricultural character, its rich villages, modern cities, dense railroad network and busy waterways elevated this region to the level of the developed European countries. There, Hungarians, Germans, Serbians, Croatians, Slovaks and Romanians lived and prospered peacefully. The net income per Hungarian acre (1.42 English acres) in the Bánság was more than three times higher than that in the trans-Tisza region. However, this extremely favorable picture had a darker side as well; namely that while the majority of the rich and middle class landowners were Serbian, German, Bunievac and Slovak, most of the large and minuscule landowners along with the agricultural farm hands and landless agricultural proletariate were to be found among Hungarians.


The great drainage and flood control works, and the construction of canals and dikes led to improvements in the region. Arable land increased and river traffic developed. In this period, cities became truly European in character, with paved roads, water, gas, and sewage systems, gas and electric lighting, and municipal electric streetcars in Újvidék and Szabadka. Impressive public buildings were erected in the then fashionable eclectic and folk-secessionist style of that period (evidenced by the county halls in Zombor and Becskerek, the city halls in Szabadka and other cities, and schools, barracks and churches). However, the unfavorable demographic trends that are culminating today had already begun in the Hungarian-inhabited districts, namely the decline in the number of births, the aging of the population, and a European „record” with regard to the suicide rate. In spite of these circumstances, the proportion of Hungarians increased, partly because the natural population growth of Hungarians exceeded that of non-Hungarians, and because the majority of the immigrants were Germans, Slovaks, Ruthenians, and Croatians. At the same time, encouraged by their nearly similar religion, strong Hungarianization took place among the Germans, Bunievac-Sokac and the Jews, a process which hardly affected the other ethnic groups, such as the Serbs.


At the outbreak of World War I, several hundred Serbs were interned, and several thousand Serbian soldiers stationed in Hungary went over to the Allies. In November 1918, the advancing Serbian royal army occupied Temesvár, Baja and Pécs. At the Great People’s Assembly held in Újvidék on 25 November, representatives of the Bunievac also decided to join Serbia. At this point, the population of the southern part of the country was divided into three equal parts: the Hungarians; the Southern Slavs (Serbians, Croatians, Bunievac); and the Germans and other ethnic groups such as the Slovaks, Romanians and Ruthenians. (Fleeing from the Turks, the Croatians of Bosnian and Dalmatian origin, and the Bunievac and Sokac of partly Serbian origin settled down in southern Hungary, in Szabadka, Zombor, and vicinity. They took up Croatian identity because of their Catholic religion).


Under the terms of the 1920 Trianon Peace Treaty, 6.5 percent of the territory of historic Hungary (excluding Croatia and Slavonia), that is 21,000 km2 including the Mura region, Muraköz, Danube-Drávaszög, Bácska and one third of the former Temes Bánság, with 1,5 million inhabitants – of whom close to one third were ethnic Hungarians – became part of the Serb-Croat-Slovene Kingdom proclaimed on 1 December 1918. The predominantly Hungarian and German-inhabited Voivodina (55.4% of its population in 1910, 51.4% in 1921 belonged to these ethnic groups) came from several viewpoints into a disadvantageous situation within the new state. The development of industry and transport stopped and the land reform, carried out on a national basis resulted in a setback of agricultural production. Development came to a halt in Hungarian-Bunievac inhabited Szabadka (in 1910 the third largest city in Hungary), now located on the fringe of Hungary’s southern border, and taxes more than doubled following the introduction of the royal dictatorship. On the other hand, the dominantly Serbian-inhabited Újvidék (Novi Sad), the seat of the Danube-Bánság, became the focus of economic development. This forced the residents to choose between internal migration or emigration. Between 1918 and 1940, the population in the province increased by 190,000, of whom 80,000 were „colonists”, most of them Serbs. A decree issued by the Council of Ministers on 25 February 1919 excluded people with „unsettled citizenship” from the ranks of those asking for land. In 1921, the number of Hungarian farm hands, harvesters, and small leaseholders in Bácska who were deprived of their means of existence came close to 24,000, making up with family members over one-fourth of the entire Hungarian population. It was thus natural that the majority of those who emigrated moved to cities, and took up work in other regions of the country came from among these people. This „conversion” on the basis of national considerations also took place in the banks and financial institutions. Most of them were eliminated, thereby removing their former managers, mostly ethnic Hungarians and Germans, or forcing them to merge with Serbian-owned banks.


The social structure of the Hungarian population became even more unfavorable: 75 percent of them lived from agriculture, 18 to 20 percent were employed in large and small scale enterprises, and the number of those in the intellectual and employee categories was even smaller. Similarly to other territories detached from Hungary, several thousand state, county, and community employees, officers, office-holders and intellectuals fled to Hungary, leaving the remaining Hungarians without intellectual leadership. Alleged unreliability and insufficient knowledge of the state-language were given as the main reasons for the ongoing dismissals and expulsions.


On 6 January 1929, King Alexander introduced Serbian royal dictatorship by abrogating the Constitution of 1921. He divided the country into nine bánság (banovina) and the capital city. Voivodina, with a population of 1,6 million, became part of the Danube-Bánság with 2.1 million people, to which were attached the Szerémség (Srem) region and North-Eastern Serbia with 500,000 ethnic Serbs and several thousand Croatian, German and Slovak inhabitants. As a result, the proportion of ethnic Hungarians and Germans who previously made up the majority of the population was diminished to a large extent.


Native-language education took place only at the lower four or six grades at the elementary school level. The only Hungarian-language high school existed in Szabadka. The language of instruction at the higher education level was the state-language even in theological academies. A mere one thousandth of the 500,000 Hungarians earned diplomas in the interwar period. There was a shortage of Hungarian teachers, physicians, clergymen, veterinarians, and economic and agricultural experts. The Catholic and Protestant Churches did much to preserve the language and culture of the national minorities, but the clergymen actively engaged in public education were harassed, imprisoned, and expelled. From 1927 on, the Bishop of Szabadka gave priority to the use of the Croatian language and appointed Bunievac priests oriented toward Zagreb to Hungarian parishes. The Hungarian Party in Yugoslavia, organized by lawyers, physicians, and landowners could be formed only in 1922. It was banned several times and its leaders and activists were persecuted and intimidated. Imre Várady, Leó Deák and Imre Prokopy gave voice to minority grievances and attempted to gain protection in the Yugoslav Parliament, the Skupstina, in Belgrade, and at the League of Nations in Geneva.


In April 1941, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia fell apart and capitulated as a result of the armed attack by Germany, Italy, and Bulgaria. After the formation of the independent Croatian state, Hungarian troops reoccupied Bácska, South Baranya (Baranja) and the Croatian-inhabited Muraköz and Muravidék regions while Bánság was taken by the Germans. Following the June 1941 attack against the Soviet Union, organized partisan fighting broke out on orders from Moscow. Between July and October 1941, 35 acts of sabotage took place in Bácska. Only one organized partisan unit by the name of Sajkás, with 58 men, operated in the vicinity of Titel. Beginning December 1941, they shot dead several gendarmes, border guards and soldiers, including the gendarmerie commander in Zsablya (Žabalj). The massive razzias and executions by the Hungarian gendarmeries and military units which followed in January 1942 were not justified by the search for the partisans who had fled, in part from a simultaneous German military action, and were hiding in Zsablya, Csurog (Čurug), and Újvidék, and whose number hardly exceeded one hundred. The „mopping up action” cost the lives of 3,300 civilians, of whom 2,500 were ethnic Serbs.


The three-and-half year long Hungarian occupation brought favorable changes to the local ethnic Hungarian population, primarily in the fields of culture and education (although the instruction of the Serbo-Croat and „Vend” languages remained mandatory in every school). However, it also caused disappointment since the long-awaited just land reform that would have at last granted land to the dispossessed Hungarians did not take place.


The loss in human lives among the ethnic Hungarian minority was probably close to 60,000, and close to 16,000 among the Hungarian-speaking Jews. On 18 October 1944, the gathering of Germans and Hungarians into camps began. According to official reports, 140,000 Germans and several hundred Hungarians were forced into 41 labor camps located throughout Voivodina. Many of them died because of illness and famine. The retaliatory measures in 1944–1945 against the Hungarian population severely affected the national community. On the basis of Márton Matuska’s and Sándor Mészáros’ thorough investigations conducted in archives, one can firmly state that 20,000 Hungarians were executed without trial. Among the victims were hundreds of Catholic and Protestant clergymen as well as secular leaders who were murdered for allegedly cooperating with the Fascists. (Until recently, it was not even possible to talk about this event. In the cemetery of Újvidék, the religious crosses erected in the victims’ memory are being vandalized year after year.) This genocide had a three-fold purpose: to retaliate and intimidate the local Hungarian population, and to deprive them of their leaders. Furthermore, their fate was also sealed by the disappearance of the ethnic German population whose religious and work culture was similar to that of the Hungarians. Of the 600,000 Germans living in Serbia, more than 250,000 perished at the war front, in concentration camps and during the 1944–1945 revenge actions. The some 330,000 survivors found a new home in the western part of Germany.


The stigmatization of the Hungarians in Voivodina was eased only partially by the fact that a considerable number of them participated in the anti-fascist struggle movement (for example, in the Petőfi brigade and the army corps of Voivodina). In addition, the fact that Hungarians played a very active role in the work of the labor unions and had a strong left-wing attachment during the interwar period could not be denied. However, even the mention of their civic and national traditions was forbidden.


In accordance with the 1943 AVNOJ resolution passed in Jajce, Voivodina was granted the status of an autonomous province within Serbia. The Yugoslav Peoples’ Liberation Council which linked together all partisan activities, reorganized the country into a system of federal states and provinces. Between 1944 and 1948, 385,000 hectares of land were distributed in Voivodina and Slavonia among 40,000 southern settler families (Serbs from Lika in Croatian Krajina, Bosnians, Montenegrins), numbering 200,000. One tenth of this distributed land was given to 18,000 landless Hungarians. With the exception of the Germans, no large scale deportations or population exchange took place. Yet, about 30,000 Hungarians – mostly those who had served in the Hungarian army and members of their families – moved to Hungary. The influx of people into Voivodina continued, with more than 500,000 newcomers settling in the province between 1953 and 1971. This influx continues to this day from the south, with refugees coming from Kosovo. As a result, the proportion of the Hungarian minority in the province has shrunk from the former one-third to one-sixth today, putting them in an even more desperate situation.


After 1956, fundamental changes in Yugoslavia’s earlier show-window minority policy took place as a result of the diminishing pressure exerted on the country, and the government took the first steps toward eliminating independent Hungarian institutions. It terminated all initiatives aimed at establishing „vertical self-organization”. From then on, similar aspirations, even in the form of poetic metaphors, were neither allowed nor tolerated and such writings were immediately destroyed. As a result of the forced setting up of so-called territorial schools and bilingual cultural associations, independent intellectual life gradually declined in the settlements where scattered Hungarian communities lived. The younger generations embarked on the road to assimilation. At the same time, a network of cultural and information institutions, unique in East-Central Europe, was established for the nationalities in Voivodina. In the 1960s and 1970s, the daily Magyar Szó, published in Újvidék, was regarded as the best Hungarian-language daily in the world. The television and radio stations in Újvidék broadcast outstanding cultural and news programs. Híd (Bridge), Új Symposion, and Létünk (Our Existence) provided the highest standards among Hungarian-language periodicals, and Forum was for a long time the most successful Hungarian book publishing house outside the borders of Hungary.


Even though the Constitution of 1974 granted contradictory status to Voivodina and Kosovo, they actually both enjoyed the legal status of a republic for nearly a decade and a half. In fact, the decentralization and self-administration already started in the 1950s paved the way for the establishment of republic, provincial, and communal power centers — a process merely codified by the Constitution of 1974.


The Čanadanović-Doronjski-Krunić-Major leadership in Voivodina did in fact defend local, primarily economic interests. However, it continued a very strict policy of oppression against the intellectuals and nationalities (among them Hungarians and and even Bunievacs, who were considered to be Croatians) struggling for democratization, thereby preventing them from establishing so-called vertical organizations on a nationality basis, and hindering their contacts with their motherland. To intimidate the minorities, a number of show trials were also masterminded, for example the banning of Új Symposion in 1971, the conviction of Károly Vicei in 1975, the police surveillance and dispersing of the Association for the Protection of Hungarian Language, the expelling of teachers in Kanizsa, and the renewed breaking up of the Sziveri-led Új Symposion in 1982. The pressure exerted upon the Churches was the most severe here, similar or in some cases even exceeding that in the Soviet Union. Religious education was terminated, teachers who took part in public church activities (for example, cantors) were dismissed, the social activities of clergymen, especially among young people, were hindered in every possible way. Those who practiced their religion could not obtain higher qualifications, and were relegated to the periphery of society.


After 1948, under the psychosis of fear made permanent by the preparations to repel a Soviet attack, the authorities fought by every means against Hungarian nationalism, which they considered extremely dangerous. They attempted to create a Yugoslav-Voivodina Hungarian national(ity) identity which could be turned against that of Budapest. At the expense of Voivodina’s own citizens, primarily of the ethnic nationality members who made up one-fourth of the population, its universities and colleges were used to train a large number of intellectuals and leaders with an alien mentality. These people never returned to the underdeveloped southern areas of the country but took for themselves jobs, including many leadership positions, in Voivodina, thereby reducing the chances of the local population, especially of the young ethnic nationals, for employment. This „autonomist” leadership was swept away on 6 October 1988 by the „yogurt” revolution, a „spontaneous” mass demonstration organized from Belgrade. The participating masses, including mainly southern colonists and their descendants, as well as students and workers (who were paid for that day) were transported upon higher instructions to Voivodina by buses and trains. The revolution received its name because sandwiches, soft drinks and yogurts were distributed among the cheerful demonstrators.


On 8 August 1990, the amendment of the Constitution by the Yugoslav federal parliament made possible the establishment of a multi-party system, and thus of Hungarian self-organization. However, instead of the long-awaited democratic changes, a war broke out for the establishment of a Greater Serbia. This goal was proclaimed first in a 1986 memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts and then in 1989 by Slobodan Milošević at mass meetings in Kosovo and Belgrade. The war, which went on for eight years, led to the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Today, the ethnic Hungarian population in Voivodina is living through the most difficult period of its contemporary history.






Area: 102,173 km2 .


Total Population: 10,4 million (according to the 1991 census).


Density of Population: 101,7 people/km2 .


Ethnic Groups: Serbian 62.6%, Albanian 13.5%, Montenegrin 5.5%, Hungarian 3.9%, Bosnian 3%.


Religions: Serb Greek Orthodox 44%, Roman Catholic 31%, Muslim 12%, Jewish (no data), Protestant (no data), other 11.5%.


Spoken Languages: Serbian (official language), Albanian, Hungarian.


Health data: average life expectancy at birth 73 years (female) and 68 (male).


Form of government: Federal Republic (Serbia and Crna Gora /Montenegro/).


Branches of Power: legislative bodies include the federal and the republic parliaments, and the Voivodina provincial assembly. Executive power is exercised by the federal government under the control of the President of the Federal Republic. The highest body of the judicial branch is the Supreme Court.


Capital: Belgrade (pop. 1,554,000)


Other Cities: Novi Sad, Niš, Kragujevac, Leskovac, Kruševac.


Urban Population: 46%.


Administrative Division: local self-government (4,819), community of local self-government (210); 29 districts and 2 provinces, including Voivodina, in Serbia. Specifically, Voivodina includes:




Territory (km2)
















Provincial seat of Voivodina: Újvidék (Novi Sad).


Political Parties: in Serbia – Serbian Socialist Party (SSP),Yugoslav Left Wing (JLW), Serbian Radical Party (SRP), Serbian Renewal Movement (SRM), Serbian Civic Federation (SCF), Serbian Democratic Party (SDP), Serbian Social Democratic Party (SSDP), Voivodina Coalition (VC), Hungarian Federation in Voivodina (HFV), Democratic Alliance in Kosovo (DCK). In Crna Gora – Democratic Party of Socialists in Crna Gora, People’s Party of Crna Gora, Social Democratic Party, Party of Democratic Action, Democratic Union of Albanians.


GDP: 14,4 billion DEM (1998)


GDP per capita: 1,444 DEM (1998), 13,900 YU Dinar. I.e. 1,544 DEM respectively (estimated for 1999).


GDP annual growth rate: 1998 state budgetary projection was +10%, actual growth rate for 1998 was +2.6%. 1999 state budgetary projection was +7%, forecast for 1999: –23.6% according to governmental estimate and –40% to –53% according to independent estimate.


Exchange rates: the official currency exchange rate, still valid today is 1 DEM = 6 YUD. The 1998 actual exchange rate was 1 DEM = 9.0 YUD and the expected 1999 rate was 1 DEM = 14 YUD (governmental estimate) and 1 DEM = 18–19 YUD (independent estimate).


Inflation: 1998 data on the cost of living was 29.8%; The expected figure for 1999 is 50% (government and independent estimates are identical).


Unemployment: real figure for 1998 – approximately 2 million jobless. No data are available for the projected figure for 1999; expected figure for 1999 – approximately 2 million (governmental and independent sources are identical). These figures include some 600,000 refugees and about 550,000 to 600,000 employees on forced leave. The 2 million unemployed make up about 20 percent of the entire population and about 40 percent of the able-bodied working population.


Underground (black) economy: its share accounts for close to 40 to 45 percent of the economy.


Table 1 indicates the number and proportion of ethnic Hungarians living in Voivodina between 1880 and 1991.


Table 1 The number and proportion of Hungarians living in Voivodina between 1880 and 1991




Number of Hungarians





































According to the data of the 1991 census (taken while Yugoslavia was still united), 345,376 ethnic Hungarians resided in Yugoslavia, of whom 340,946 lived in Voivodina. At that time, 75,63 percent of the Hungarians lived in Bácska, 21,56 percent in Bánát, and 2,81 percent in Szerémség. In four localities, specifically Zenta (Senta), Ada (Ada), Magyarkanizsa (Kanjiža) and Kishegyes (Mali Iđoš), they made up the absolute majority of the population. In four other communities: Óbecse (Bečej), Topolya (Bačka Topolja), Csóka (Čoka) and Szabadka (Subotica), Hungarians constituted a relative majority. In several villages, Hungarians who live in scattered communities also constitute the majority of the population. In Voivodina, Hungarians account for 17 percent of the province‘s 2.1 million population and there is practically no locality without Hungarian inhabitants, with Hungarians living in 453 of Voivodina’s 464 settlements.


Between the last two censuses taken in 1981 and 1991, respectively, the proportion of Hungarians decreased to the greatest extent (by 25% to 30%) in Alibunar, Beocsin, Zsablya, Ürög, Pećinci, Šid, and (by 20% to 25%) in Bács, Bácspalánka, Versec, Pancsova, and Titel, where they lived in scattered communities. In compactly Hungarian-inhabited districts such as Ada, Kanizsa, Zenta, Topolya, Kishegyes, Szabadka and Óbecse, the decline in the number of Hungarians was the smallest (5% to 10%).


Reasons for the decrease of the Hungarian population include the extremely low birth rate, an ongoing policy of forced assimilation, mass emigration, the catastrophic aging of the population, the very high number of suicides, alcoholism, the outbreak of contagious diseases, the high number of divorces and abortions and, in the case of mixed marriages, the use of a so-called „Yugoslav” census category. The proportion of Hungarians significantly decreased in comparison with the Serbs as a result of three factors: (1) the uninterrupted process of forced resettlement of Serbs since the Trianon Treaty, (2) census manipulations, and (3) the simultaneous artificial atrophying of the network of Hungarian institutions.

Since the outbreak of the Yugoslav conflict in 1991, the ethnic composition of Voivodina’s population underwent such drastic changes that most of the data available today are antiquated. According to some sources, approximately 40,000 to 50,000, ethnic Hungarians have left their homeland since 1992 due to the war. Other sources place this number at about 100,000. Next to political, economic, and social insecurity, call-ups for military duty far exceeding their share of the population were the decisive factors in inducing Hungarians, most of them young and skilled, to emigrate. At the same time, a massive influx of Serbian „refugees” from Bosnia and Croatia, estimated to number close to 250,000, took place. As a result of the Croatian military campaign in August 1995, Yugoslavia admitted 150,000 Serbian refugees from Knin Krajina, of whom 110,000 (or 75% of the total) were sent to Voivodina. According to data provided by the provincial Red Cross, Voivodina alone took in over 200,000 refugees or 42 percent of all refugees arriving in Serbia. According to UN High Commissioner for Refugees records, the number of refugees in Voivodina in 1995 was 259,719. Since the 1920s, tens of thousands of refugees were systematically and continuously resettled in compactly Hungarian-inhabited regions and in western-Bácska, as the result of a deliberate and uninterrupted policy of assimilation. Their arrival and settling down broke up the homogeneous character of the ethnic Hungarian population, that changed the previous nearly 50-50 percent balance between Hungarians and Serbs. The armed Serbian refugees provoked numerous acts of local atrocities, primarily in Croatian or Hungarian-inhabited areas. They also began to inventory and even take by force the properties of those who had left their homeland or had moved away temporarily.


The expansion of the extremist Serbian nationalist forces resulted in growing fears among the ethnic Hungarians. During the 1997 parliamentary and presidential elections, the Serbian Radical Party led by Vojislav Šešelj achieved a frighteningly big success. In some Voivodina localities where this party came to power, the SRD began to restructure the communities and to alter the original ethnic composition of the population through the final resettlement of refugees. This happened for example in Temerin, where plots were distributed free of charge among refugees solely in the district inhabited by a Hungarian majority even though land was also available in other districts. A territorial reorganization plan was approved by the local council at the time of NATO’s airstrikes against Yugoslavia. Bezdán (Bezdan), another Hungarian-inhabited community, faces a similar danger as the local self-government plans to erect an eastern Orthodox Church for the Serbian refugees. In June 1999, the local self-government of Törökkanizsa distributed land to the Serbian refugees free of charge, thereby altering the traditional ethnic composition of the settlement.


The Serbian refugees who were resettled in the first half of the 1990s are in possession of a large number of weapons, and often harass the local Hungarian population in the open street, primarily in western Bácska. In several communities, these refugees have divided among themselves the most valuable plots of land, and have informed the local Hungarian population that they were ready to eliminate them physically as a final way to drive them out. The latest anti-Hungarian acts in Csonoplya (Čonoplja), Bezdán, and Gombos (Bogojevo) support this fact.


Following NATO’s military action against Yugoslavia, refugees began to arrive from Kosovo to Voivodina. According to estimates by ethnic Hungarian organizations in Voivodina, approximately 10,000 to 15,000 refugees, mostly Romas, arrived in the province. Due to the lack of prospects, the slow exodus of Hungarians is continuing while Serbian refugees are buying their vacant properties. As a result, Hungarians could well become a local minority in districts in which they presently constitute an absolute or a relative majority.





The 1974 Constitution of the Yugoslav Federation, the Serbian Republic, and the Province of Voivodina all recognized Hungarians as a state-building national minority, thereby guaranteeing them collective rights. This is evidenced by the following legal provisions:



Constitution of the Yugoslav Socialist Federal Republic:

In the Preamble, Sections 1 and 5; Parts I to VII of the Fundamental Principles; and Articles 1, 4, 154, 170, 171, 245, 246, 247 and 248.


Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Serbia:

Preamble and Articles 1, 2, 145, 146, 147, 148, 178, 194, 233, 240, 291, 293, 294 and 295.


In even greater detail in the Constitution of the Socialist Autonomous Province of Voivodina:

Art. 1; Art. 2, par.1; Articles 4, 5, 177 and 189; Art. 192, par. 4, 5, 6; Art. 197, par. 1; Art. 233, par. 1 and 2; Art. 237, par. 1, 2, 3; and Art. 271.

Based on the Constitutions of 1974, a broad system of minority rights protection was established. Equality before the law was guaranteed for all nationalities living in Yugoslavia, except for matters relating to the military, and to economic and foreign policy. Hungarians gained representation in the Federal Republic, and Provincial Parliaments and in local representative bodies in proportion to their number of the general population. The principles of proportion and rotation prevailed in the composition of the collective body that ran the state and the collective leadership of the assemblies, with the exception of military affairs. On the international scene, the Yugoslav Socialist Federal Republic (YSFR) often initiated the further development of the legal system for the protection of national minorities. Until 1988, it adopted and ratified every international convention on the protection of minorities. However, the government was extremely careful to see to it that the great many formal elements in the laws did not become general practice. To this end, it relied mainly on its cadre policy. The elected and appointed ethnic Hungarian leaders were not elected by the Hungarian community. In every case they had to be loyal to the government and a member of the Communist Party living in a mixed marriage. As opposed to other leaders, they could never exercise the right of veto. The government also curtailed the rights of assembly and organization and the freedom of speech on the basis of nationality.


The Constitution of the Serbian Republic adopted on 28 September 1990, which defines Serbia as a civic state with a multi-party system, fails to recognize national minorities as communities, as well as their collective rights. The constitution treats collective rights as individual citizen and human rights, as evidenced in the Preamble’s Articles 1, 6, 8, Art.9, par.1, Art. 13, Art.32, par.3, Articles 41 and 49, Art.108, par.1 and 2, Art.109, Art.110, par.1, and Art.112. The Constitution adopted by the Autonomous Province of Voivodina in 1991 deals with national minority rights as individual human and civil rights in Article 1, par.1 and Articles 4, 6, 13, and 15. The Constitution adopted much later by the Yugoslav Federal Republic (Serbia and Montenegro) on 27 April 1992 also treats nationality rights as individual rights, as shown in its Preamble and in Articles 1, 2, 11, 15, 20, 42, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, and 50. As a result of these constitutional amendments, Hungarians – like other national minorities in Yugoslavia – were granted the rights of self-rule and freedom of assembly as an unalienable part of human rights but lost their formal collective rights.


The Constitutions of Serbia and Yugoslavia deprived the provinces of their right to constitutional and legislative power, and allowed them only to express their opinion. They eliminated the independent financial sources and budgets of the provinces and their communities. Nominally, Voivodina remained an independent province, but in reality it became only a geographical term. The heavily centralized republic government retained all decision-making power and entrusted the executive power to the newly-established districts headed by governors. In practice, all power is centralized in the hands of the President of the Federal Republic.


The constitutional amendment also put an end to the practice of multilinguism, widely used until then. Today, Voivodina’s five official languages belong to the past, and the only official language is Serbian with its Cyrillic alphabet variant. At the local level, however, community multilinguism financed by local sources is still possible.


The 1990 ruling of the Serbian Supreme Court seriously affected the social and economic situation of Hungarians in Voivodina because it eliminated the mandatory advertisement of applications for employment in the language of the minorities as well. In other words, the court ruled as unlawful the legal principle of the „nationality quota”, widely used until then in the employment practice of public institution and companies. A Ministry for Minority Affairs at the federal, republic, and provincial levels, respectively, still exists formally today but its staff is miniscule. To a small extent, it fulfills a fund-distributing function, and its officials are nationality members loyal to the government. The government not only excludes the legitimate minority representatives from the decision-making process, but also casts doubts on the need for and the representative character of their organizations.


No law on nationalities has been adopted to this day. In 1993 the Panić government prepared under the direction of then Justice Minister Tibor Várady a draft bill on the freedom rights of Yugoslavia’s minority communities and their members. The draft bill is based primarily on civil liberties, but at the same time treats individuals as members of given national minorities who are in possession of certain collective rights.


Among the various autonomies, the bill envisaged to redefine multi-national territorial and administrative autonomy, but it also left ample room for elements of other types – functional, cultural and personal – minority autonomies.


Several legal regulations adopted in the 1990s, which seemingly apply equally to all citizens, discriminate primarily against ethnic Hungarians. The most important ones are:


Serbia’s administrative redistricting in 1991, which transferred the Hungarian-inhabited territories into four new districts, thereby putting them in new, artificial centers dominated by Serbs with the purpose of reducing natural centers of attraction.

The new republic law on territorial development (1991), which enacted economic measures to the detriment of minority-inhabited regions that, by means of unprecedented centralization, transfer larger quantities of locally-produced goods to Serbia.

The new republic law on language use (1991), which revoked the right to use the native language previously exercised in the former autonomous province. According to the law, local governments may determine by themselves the use of official languages (in public administration and court proceedings, a separate request must be made for the use of native languages. However, the law abolished the funding of the costs involved and in practice, Hungarian-language administrative procedures, bilingual documents and signs can be requested only through a series of bureaucratic steps).

The discriminatory laws on education (1992, 1998), which resulted in the further atrophying of Hungarian-language institutions at the elementary, secondary, and university level (for example, the setting up of a class requires a minimum of 15 students; the knowledge of the minority language is no longer a condition for hiring teachers, as a result of which Hungarian-language schools are becoming increasingly bilingual; principals and school board directors are no longer elected but appointed by central authorities; Serbian became the administrative language in institutions, and so on).

The border crossing fee introduced in 1994 and raised several times since then.

The new republic law on inheritance adopted in 1995, which excludes from inheriting those who went abroad, including those who fled military conscription.

On 18 June1996, the Federal Parliament adopted Yugoslavia’s Law on Amnesty, which guarantees impunity to those who fled military draft but does not free them from compulsory military service.

The new Law on Self-Government adopted on 11 November 1999, which further curtails the authority of local self-governments, reducing it practically to the execution of communal tasks.


The participation of Hungarians in the legislative power


The elected representatives of the Hungarian interest protection organizations have been present since 1990 in the federal, republic, and provincial parliaments. As a result of the latest elections, only the Alliance of Hungarians in Voivodina (VMSZ) gained full-fledged parliamentary representation with three seats in the Federal Parliament and four seats in the Serbian Parliament. VMSZ also has 11 deputies in the Provincial Assembly of Voivodina, the Christian-Democratic Union (KDT), two deputies, and the Hungarian Democratic Party of Voivodina (VMDP), one. Other ethnic Hungarian representatives elected as members of other parties, primarily the Serbian Socialist Party, are also present in the assemblies.


The arbitrary modification of the electoral districts, the ad hoc amendment of the election law, and the holding of the elections provided an opportunity for numerous abuses, and at the all-Yugoslav level, the frauds hurt primarily the opposition, and in Voivodina, primarily the ethnic Hungarians.



The participation of Hungarians in self-governments


At the local election held in November, 1996, of the two competing ethnic Hungarian parties, VMSZ and the Democratic Community of the Hungarians in Voivodina (VMDK), the candidates of the former were clearly the winners. However, among the former seven Hungarian self-governments, Hungarians have an absolute majority in only two local councils, Kanizsa and Zenta. In Kishegyes, Becse, Topolya and Szabadka Hungarians also have significant representation, but their parties were obliged to cooperate with the Serbian Socialist Party (SSP). In Ada and Csóka, parties of the current Serbian government coalition are running local affairs. In fall 1999, SSP took over the direction of the representative body in Kishegyes. The local executive power is execised by various forms of coalitions: in some districts, one or the other Hungarian party allied itself with the government parties, in other districts with the opposition parties.


The local (district) self-governments are striving to maintain their independence, but they are subordinated to the higher authority of the district commissioner. Nationality viewpoints played the smallest determining role in the establishment of the districts, as shown by the division in two of the compactly Hungarian-inhabited northern Bácska. As a result of the unprecedented centralization, the scope of the local self-governments is very limited. The introduction of a bicameral system of local self-governments has been on the agenda since 1997. The new Law on Self-Government, adopted on 11 November 1999, in the spirit of Serbian centralization further curtails the rights of local governments, downgrading them to branches of the Interior Ministry for the performance of communal tasks. The upcoming one-round local elections of representatives by a simple majority vote, expected to take place in 2000, increase the chances of victory of the current coalition in power.






The constitutional amendment adopted by the former Parliament of the Yugoslav Socialist Federal Republic on 8 August 1990 allowed for the establishment of a multi-party system in the country, and also provided the basis for the establishment of vertical interest protection organizations by the ethnic Hungarians in Voivodina.


On 18 December 1989, on behalf of an 11-member initiative committee, András Ágoston submitted to the Socialist Federation’s Provincial Assembly of Voivodina the documents relating to the establishment of the Democratic Community of Hungarians in Voivodina (VMDK). On 31 March 1990 in Doroszló (Doroslovo) in western Bácska, VMDK came into existence. The statutory meeting elected András Ágoston as chairman, and Sándor Hódi and János Vékás as vice-chairmen. Among the objectives in the program of the organization established as a political movement, the following deserve to be mentioned:


proportional representation and cooperation in elected official bodies, and the right to adequate representation in public administrative and judicial bodies;

the right to use the native language in contacts with official and judicial bodies and in public life in general;

the right to establish and run nationality institutions, organizations, associations, and clubs;

the right of access to information in the native-language;

the right to nurture and protect creative artistic work in nationality languages, and to preserve ethnographic values;

the right to conduct scientific researches related to the situation of the nationalities;

the right to protect urban units of a nationality character, and to preserve the cultural material mementos and objects;

the right to native language education at the primary and secondary level, and to provide an adequate form of higher education in the native-language;

the right to maintain organized contacts with institutions in the mother-country, and to enjoy the free use of the material benefits offered there in the fields of science and culture for the purpose of individual education and advanced training;

the right to join and become involved in the work of the international organizations of the nationalities and national minorities.

Following the establishment of the organization, András Ágoston called in a letter upon the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Art and Science to initiate scientific researches to find out the causes for the vendetta against more than 20,000 ethnic Hungarians in 1944/1945, so that the Hungarians in Voivodina may learn the whole truth. On 27 July 1990 Ágoston sent a memorandum to the President of Serbia, stressing that VMDK did not consider the open and unresolved situation of ethnic Hungarians in Voivodina as the internal affair of Serbia, and proposed for the first time a dialogue with the Serbian state. On 28 June 1990, Ágoston called upon the members of his party and on ethnic Hungarians in Voivodina to vote in the 1 July referendum for the introduction of the multi-party system. On 3 August 1990, he began to collect signatures protesting the closing down of the People’s Theatre in Szabadka.


On 27 August 1990, after a considerable delay, VMDK was registered by the competent state bodies. Following its registration, it could begin to build up its local and district organizations, and its membership soon reached 25,000. On 17 September 1990, the first issue of its bulletin, Hírmondó (Messenger), was published (apart from short interruptions, it was published until 1996). On 29 September 1990, the party’s First Congress, held in Ada in presence of 500 delegates, adopted the program of the organization.


(Shortly after this event, state security bodies allegedly tried to establish a counter- organization by the name of Hungarians for their Country — Yugoslavia, with an interior ministry officer named Josip Molnár chosen to head it. However, this attempt did not mislead the Hungarians.)


The Second Congress of VMDK was held in Szabadka on 21 April 1991, with the participation of 1,100 delegates and some 3,000 interested persons. Participating Bishop László Tőkés from Transylvania pressed for universal solutions with regard to minority issues and for open borders in the Central European region. András Ágoston declared VMDK to be the only legitimate political representation of ethnic Hungarians in Voivodina. The Congress protested in the strongest terms the redistricting of Serbia and the centralization policy of the commissioners heading the new districts. On 25 April 1992, the general assembly held in Magyarkanizsa adopted, in spite of the psychological pressure and incitement it was subjected to, the Hungarian proposal for autonomy drafted on the basis of the Carrington document, which united elements of the personal and territorial principles and of the local self-governments.


During the 1991 to 1994 period, the activities of VMDK’s leading bodies, district organizations, and membership focused on the political struggle against forced conscription of Hungarians into the Yugoslav army and on how to counteract its consequences. VMDK stressed in a series of documents that ethnic Hungarians living in Voivodina were drafted and sent to the combat zones in numbers far exceeding their proportion of the population. VMDK was one of the decisive initiators of the peace movement. From the end of 1992, beginning with the attempt to resettle in Voivodina the first groups of Serbian refugees who had fled from Bosnia and Croatia, the focus of VMDK’s activity shifted toward the struggle against the alteration by force of the ethnic composition of Voivodina. In countless letters to the United Nations, the European Union, the European Parliament, the then Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and most of all to the Chairman of the Yugoslavia Conference, VMDK asked these organizations to also pay attention to the rightful aspirations of the Hungarians in Voivodina in the course of their efforts to settle the Yugoslav conflict.


VMDK achieved its greatest success in the December 1992 elections when nearly 300 of its candidates gained mandates. It was able to send three deputies to the federal parliament, nine to the parliament of the Serbian Republic, and 17 to the provincial assembly of Voivodina. VMDK also obtained the majority of seats in the self-government representative bodies in dominantly Hungarian-inhabited districts, and had six elected mayors.


On 16 January 1993, the first meeting of the Hungarian parliamentary deputies and councillors was held under the name of Minority Parliament, at which the participants once again came out in support of autonomy for ethnic Hungarians. A communiqué regarding autonomy issued in Ada by VMDK’s Presidium on 13 February 1993 stated that „VMDK does not know any compromise and the possibility of its cooperation with other parties as well as its assessment of individual political attitudes and declarations are dependent on this issue”. The majority of the representatives were in agreement with VMDK’s demands but could imagine their realization only in conformity with and the observance of the laws of the country. The differences between the VMDK’s top leadership and the self-governments with a Hungarian majority, and the split within the VMKD are believed by some to have started at that time.


In 1993, the year when the very existence of the Hungarians living in Voivodina was endangered, the organization was faced with a new challenge. Given the fact that an important segment of Voivodina’s Hungarians were already in need of assistance, VMDK founded with help from Hungary the Vox Humana Benevolent Organization. Part of the collected humanitarian aid failed to reach its destination, and differences arose between the organization’s leaders in connection with the aid from Hungary. As a result, VMDK, now under internal and external pressure, gained only five seats in the early parliamentary elections of 1993. However, it reinforced its position in the self-governments of localities with a Hungarian majority with seven mayors and the same number of self-governments in which Hungarians held a majority.


Later on, VMDK was unable to fulfill the demands of its followers and to withstand the pressure exerted upon it by the Hungarians living in Voivodina, which resulted on the one hand in the gradual loss of the party’s popularity and the loss of deputy seats at various levels, and on the other hand in the two-way split of the party. The 27 March 1994 general assembly to reelect officials held in Zenta rejected the establishment of platforms and by amending the statutes, it eliminated the possibility of collective membership of the organizations. Vice chairman Sándor Hódi, accused of financial malpractice, was replaced by Dr. Sándor Páll. In March, 1995, the general assembly held in Szabadka adopted a draft proposal for autonomy, updated with the collaboration of experts from Hungary, whose focus shifted toward personal self-government. At the same time, by amending its statutes, VMDK expelled 75 of its members who had accepted to hold office in the Alliance of Hungarians in Voivodina (VMSZ), which had come in the meantime into existence. In the 1996 elections, VMDK was no longer able to gain seats in the federal and republic parliaments, and achieved only modest results in the local elections as compared to the previous ones. Following the unsuccessful election results, the general assembly held in Becse in December 1996 dismissed the entire VMDK presidium and elected Dr. Sándor Páll as the new chairman. The general assembly also laid down in a resolution that the VMKD would return to the „Doroszló principles” and the party’s original concept for autonomy.


Dismissed chairman András Ágoston set up in February 1997 in Szenttamás (Srbobran) a new party, the Hungarian Democratic Party of Voivodina, with 130 members, and said he continued to consider himself the spiritual heir of VMDK. The establishment of personal self-government for Voivodina’s ethnic Hungarians remains at the center of his efforts. His objectives include proportional representation for Hungarians in Voivodina and the granting of dual citizenship.


A small group of people disillusioned with the policy of VMDK founded in January 1997 the Hungarian Christian-Democratic Movement in Voivodina (VMKM) and elected Ferenc Papp as chairman. The party intends to function as a family-oriented, practical party open toward every well-intentioned initiative and organization. At its meeting on 1 August 1998, its presidium adopted an autonomy concept entitled „draft self-government system for Hungarians in Voivodina”.


Since VMDK’s general assembly to reelect officials, held in March 1994 in Zenta, rejected the possibility of establishing platforms within the party, those opposed to the decision founded on 17 June 1994 – also in Zenta – a new Hungarian interest protection organization, the Alliance of Hungarians in Voivodina (VMSZ). They elected as chairman Ferenc Csubela, who had earlier become very popular as a parliamentary deputy by defending young Hungarians in Bácskossuthfalva (Ómoravica) against forced conscription and deportation. With several others, he had organized a peace movement in northern Bácska.


VMSZ members had themselves registered as a civil association and intended to remain an umbrella organization. By referring to the VMDK statutes which said that membership was compatible with being a member in another party, they did not resign from the VMDK. Following the establishment of VMSZ, three of the five Hungarian deputies in the parliament of the Serbian Republic, 13 of the 18 deputies in the provincial assembly, and seven local councilors in self-governments with a Hungarian majority, along with the mayors, became either VMSZ members or sympathizers.


The general assembly held on 17 June 1995 declared VMSZ, which until then had functioned as an association, to be a political interest protection organization. In this spirit, it adopted the party’s statutes and a program entitled „Remaining here as Hungarians”. Following the tragic death of Ferenc Csubela, József Kasza, deputy in the parliament of the Serbian Republic and mayor of Szabadka, took over the leadership of VMSZ beginning December 1995. In January 1996, at his suggestion, the VMSZ council, followed by the general assembly on 11 September 1996, adopted a concept for autonomy entitled „Draft Agreement on the Foundations of Self-Organization for Hungarians in Voivodina” which, like VMDK’s concept, was built on three pillars.


All elected Hungarian deputies in the Federal Parliament (3) and in the Parliament of the Serbian Republic (4) have become members of VMSZ. Only three of the 14 Hungarian deputies in the Provincial Assembly of Voivodina have been elected as representatives of other ethnic Hungarian organizations. The office of one of the Deputy Speakers of the Parliament of the Serbian Republic was filled in fall 1997 by István Ispanovics, a VMSZ deputy. The organization also gained significant representation in the seven Hungarian self-governments in northern Voivodina.


In the second half of 1997, VMSZ experts prepared a study entitled „Certain Issues Regarding the Situation of the Hungarian National Community in Voivodina”, which they forwarded to President Slobodan Milošević. Afterwards, the President of the Yugoslav Federation twice received a VMSZ delegation, on 27 December 1997 and 20 January 1998, respectively. As a result of the talks with President Milošević, the authorities gave free way to the reopening of the teachers’ training college in Szabadka, starting with the 1998/1999 academic year. Also thanks to the discussions carried out by VMSZ, the Minority Council of the Province of Voivodina was established on 10 July 1998 as a body with consultative and proposal-making spheres of competence functioning alongside the Provincial Executive Council.


On 22 September 1998, VMSZ addressed a Memorandum to the Liaison Group, requesting it to also examine the situation of the Hungarian minority living in Serbia at the same time as seeking a solution to the Kosovo crisis. In December 1998, VMSZ worked out on the model of the Hill-Milutinović autonomy plan for Kosovo its concept entitled Draft Agreement on the Political Framework of Self-Government in Voivodina. It would provide the opportunity to all national minorities living on the territory of Voivodina, including Hungarians, to resolve the political and legal framework of their own self-governments. Next to restoring the autonomy of the province of Voivodina, the concept also promotes personal and territorial autonomy for Hungarians by means of an agreement with the government.


Despite its successes, VMSZ itself split further. On 4 July 1997, Gábor Tóth Horti had one of the party’s platforms, the Christian Democratic Grouping (KDT), registered as an independent party. Even though KDT declared that it remained a member of VMSZ, the latter found this move incomprehensible and dismissed Tóth Horti and two of his associates from their leading posts in the VMSZ. Tóth Horti was also removed from his office as mayor of Zenta.


As can be seen, every ethnic Hungarian interest protection organization in Voivodina mentioned until now was born from VMDK. The only exception is the Hungarian Civic Movement in Voivodina (VMPM), a political organization founded in 1995 and headed by József Böröc, which has only a few hundred members.


Hungarian political life in Voivodina is bipolar: VMSZ, VMDK (the two organizations signed a cooperation agreement on 28 May 1999), and VMPM constitute one of the poles while VMDP and the two Christian Democratic organizations allied with it form the other pole.


The autonomy concepts of the Hungarian organizations in Voivodina are based on a common value system and an identical perception of state and law. They also envisage the same objective, namely to secure the collective rights of the Hungarian national minority within an institutional framework, in conformity with European norms and the practices of the developed European democracies. According to the cooperation agreement signed on 28 May 1999 by VMDK and VMSZ, the two organizations will jointly work out and represent their ideas concerning the autonomy of the ethnic Hungarians in Voivodina. VMDP also participated in harmonization meetings of experts held in May and June 1999. The final version of the autonomy concept for Voivodina’s Hungarians was completed by July with the participation of experts from Hungary. The document entitled „Agreement on the Political and Legal Frameworks of the Self-Government of Voivodina and the National Communities of Voivodina” (July 5, 1999) puts the emphasis on the restoration of the provincial autonomy of Voivodina on the basis of an agreement with the government. The concept contains three forms of autonomy: personal self-government, territorial self-government, and provincial autonomy for Voivodina.


Representatives of VMSZ, VMDK and VMPM set up on 20 August 1999 the Provisional Hungarian National Council. Its members include the Hungarian parties’ federal, republic, and provincial parliamentary deputies, as well as one-fifth of the Hungarian local self-government representatives in proportion to their party affiliation.


The National Council has been sharply attacked by the Serbian nationalist and leftist parties in power which groundlessly see it as the first step toward separation.





Serbia plays a dominant role in the economic life of the state formation created after the demise of Yugoslavia, in part due to its inherited economic potential and to a greater extent because of its bigger population, i.e. market. As a result of the Yugoslav conflict, the country’s U.N. membership was suspended and starting 2 June 1992, economic sanctions were imposed on Yugoslavia. For this reason, it has not been able to this day to regularize its membership in the IMF, the World Bank, and GATT, and it cannot join the WTO either. Following the fulfillment of the conditions of the Dayton Agreement, the sanctions have been relaxed but this process has stopped because of frauds at the 1996 local government elections and other reasons. Beginning spring 1998, as a result of the well-known events in Kosovo, the strictest economic sanctions have been put into effect against Serbia. Because of the political instability and tensions lasting to this day, confidence on the part of foreign capital and of international organizations has not been restored.


The economy of the Yugoslav Federal Republic has been completely disrupted as a result of the incessant wars going on since 1991 and according to official estimates, it will take at least 20 years to put it back on its feet. The country’s industrial production fell back to about 40 percent of its 1990 level, and the monetary system fell apart as a result of hyper-inflation. The gradually increasing trade deficit is covered by the continually shrinking reserves of the enterprises and population. Assistance to the some two million unemployed, to whom must be added approximately 600,000 refugees and some 550,000 to 600,000 people on forced holiday, represents a burden that exceeds the resources of the country. The two milion unemployed (40 percent of those able to work are jobless) represent 20 percent of the population. The underground or black economy’s share in all economic activities is close to 40 to 45 percent.


The steps taken from 1994 on to stabilize the economy economic have been hindered to a large extent by the country’s dire lack of domestic and foreign capital. It has been calculated that capital in the amount to $20 to $22 million would be immediately needed to revive the healthy dynamism of the economy. Another important condition would be to normalize relations with the neighboring countries, especially with the former republics of Yugoslavia (assets and debt sharing issues, regaining of markets).


Under present conditions, Voivodina’s situation within Yugoslavia has been upgraded. However, as a result of increasing centralization, nine-tenths of the income produced in Voivodina, a province traditionally considered a donor region, has been taken away from it. The Milošević regime has eliminated the so-called nationality quota system applied in Tito’s Yugoslavia, which ensured proportional representation in social, cultural, and economic life to persons belonging to a national minority. However, the emphasis on the exclusiveness of professsional suitability in practice pushed the representatives of the nationalities to the periphery of public and social life. As a result, Hungarians are today heavily underrepresented, even in areas with a compact Hungarian population, among the managers of state enterprises. Discrimination on the basis of nationality is applied in the selection process.


The consequences of the war crisis lasting since 1991 have resulted in an extremely severe setback to the existential situation of the Hungarians living in Voivodina. Discriminatory measures in the economic field, for example in taxation and purchasing, have gravely hurt agriculture. They particularly hit the rural Hungarian population which has used up a major part of its reserves because of the low prices for produce, obsolete agricultural machinery and the constantly increasing production costs, and the quasi-permanent lack of fuel. There is a serious shortage of capital in the traditionally producing areas, such as agriculture and food industry. The state does not provide any assistance to local enterprises and has even excluded the Hungarian-inhabited areas of Central Bácska from its development plans. Priority is given at their expense to the newly established settlements along the Danube and in northern Bánát. The launching of enterprises is also made difficult by the fact that a large number of those potentially able to do it are leaving the country. The Centers for Enterprise Development in Szabadka and Topolya are seeking to provide assistance to Voivodina’s Hungarian entrepreneurs. Privatization has started only recently, and preparations to transfer common-property productive land into Serbian hands have been made.




After 1945, the situation in Voivodina seemingly took a favorable turn and a series of cultural associations, groups and societies were established. On 10 May 1945, the Community of Hungarian Public Culture was founded in Nagybecskerek (Zrenjanin), and on 22 June the Cultural Federation of Hungarians in Voivodina was established with its headquarters in Szabadka. The latter organization remains to this day the most important institution of Vovodina’s Hungarians and embraces every field of cultural life. At the general assembly convened in January 1947, which mobilized all of Yugoslavia’s Hungarians, the Federation elected its Cultural Board and specialized committees, and designated the focal centers of its cultural associations. Within a short period of time, the Federation succeded in organizing 62 associations and the specialized committees functioned successfully as well. A priority area in its activities was the so-called literacy movement. It set up 12 travelling libraries which visited the farming centers located in their respective districts. It was also decided to establish a Hungarian ethnographic museum, but the setting up of the institution could not take place even though it was very much needed (and remains so today) by the Hungarians in Voivodina. Ethnic Serbian leaders of the ruling Communist Party increasingly made strong objections to a centrally directed Hungarian social and cultural life.


The opportunity to eliminate the Cultural Federation was provided by the measures against the Information Office in 1948. Party members active in the presidium, board, and specialized committees were forced to make statements by means of very harsh measures. A great many of the active cultural workers were deported to the ill-famed concentration camp on Goli Otok island, while the remaining party members were forced to liquidate „on a voluntary basis” the Cultural Federation. In the meantime, the Communist Party organization of Voivodina established in summer 1948 the multi-ethnic Community of Public Culture in Voivodina with its seat in Újvidék, and within it the successor of the Cultural Federation, the Hungarian Section of the Community of the Public Culture. This section took over the Federation’s assets and archives as well as the direction of its until then successfully functioning central and local branches. From then on, instead of the nurturing of the Hungarian cultural heritage within the Hungarian cultural associations, the emphasis was placed on bilingual cultural activities, while bilinguism and the preservation of the Hungarian cultural heritage were out of question in Serbian associations. Due to these measures and the hostile environment, the cultural associations lost their membership and disappeared in Bánát, Szerémség and South Bácska.



The Hungarian Language-Cultivating Association in Voivodina, founded in 1964, underwent similar ordeals and was able to set up its specialized committees and local organizations only after 1968. In 1970, it organized in Ada the Gábor Szarvas Language Cultivating Days. The Újvidék-based daily Magyar Szó launched a new supplement entitled Language Cultivator. It also prepared the Yugoslav appendix of the Hungarian orthographic rules, and took part in the writing of the draft bill on language use in Voivodina. In 1971, under the accusation of nationalism, an overt political attack was launched against the Association’s leaders, primarily those in Szabadka, which resulted in the weakening of the activities of the organization. After proper neutralization, the association was reorganized.


Since the beginning the 1990s, besides political organizations, Hungarian professional organizations have been established one after the other. In contrast to the practice followed in Hungary, however, they do not receive central state subsidies and can rely at best on the financial support of some self-governments, foundations in Hungary, and various other sources.


The Cultural Alliance of Hungarian in Voivodina (VMMSZ), established on 11 July 1992 in Szenttamás, set forth as its goal the preservation of the heritage of the once so important Cultural Federation of Hungarians in Voivodina. The Alliance, which presently has 75 member organizations and some 10,000 members, coordinates the activities of the various cultural associations and voluntary artistic groups. It also plays an important role in the training of cultural experts such as folk dance and music instructors, and in the organization of cultural events. For example, it initiated the reopening of the Hungarian Festive Games in Voivodina, and of the Review of the Hungarian Cultural Associations in southern Bánát. It organizes the Hungarian Amateur Theatre Company in Voivodina, and has since 1999 organized such tradition-nurturing reviews as Gyöngyösbokréta and Durindó. It was also the iniator and co-organizer of the Roundtable Talks of Tóthfalu and the First Hungarian Intellectual Forum in Voivodina to promote a meeting-place to discuss the differing views to be found among the various streams of Hungarian intellectuals. At the initiative of VMMSZ, the Foundation for Hungarian Culture in Budapest launched a series of programs, to be organized annually, entitled „The Introduction of Regions” whose aim is to present Hungarian cultural life in the neighboring countries. Károly Dudás is chairman of VMMSZ.


Among the cultural associations that are important for the entire Hungarian community in Voivodina figure (the list is not complete) the Folk Circle in Szabadka, the Civic Club Sándor Petőfi Cultural Association in Zombor, the Petőfi Cultural Associations in Újvidék and Nagybecskerek, the Zoltán Kodály Cultural Association in Topolya, and the Lajos Thurzó Center for Public Culture in Zenta.


The literary and artistic gatherings called Életjel, started in 1958 in the reading room of the Municipal Library of Szabadka, ultimately grew into a literary movement. Important events in the cultural life of Hungarians in Voivodina are: Gyöngyösbokréta, the rally of the Hungarian folk dance groups; Durindó; the Artistic Contest of High School Students; and the Tisza Festive Games of Kanizsa, where amateur theatrical groups from the Tisza region and northern Bácska meet annually. From the perspective of the Hungarians living in scattered communities, the Review of Hungarian Cultural Associations in South Bánát, which was eliminated by the authorities then relaunched by VMMSZ, is of major importance.


The Hungarian ethnic community in Voivodina continues to preserve to this day the memory of its „literate” forbearers, which is evidenced by the regular visits to literary places of pilgrimage, and by such events as the annual Writers’ Camp in Kanizsa, the Szenteleky Days, the Imre Csépe Memorial Days, the Kosztolányi Days, the Károly Szirmai Memorial Day, and the Ferenc Fehér Memorial Day.



The Association of Hungarian Teachers in Voivodina (VMPE), chaired by Margit Nagy, was established in 1993 as a professional organization independent from all parties. Its objectives include the organization, assistance, and upgrading of Hungarian-language education. Jointly with Radio Újvidék, it organizes annually a folk music competition and a folkdance and game contest for children. In order to develop native-language education, VMPE closely cooperates with the Hungarian methodology centers, student aid associations, and the Hungarian Text Book Council in Voivodina with its seat in Újvidék. Also active are the independently registered Association of Teachers in North Bácska, headquartered in Szabadka, and the Erzsébet Börcsök Methodological Center, located in Pancsova, which supports educational issues affecting Hungarians living in scattered communities in southern Bánát.



The Hungarian Health Society in Voivodina groups the physicians. The Alliance of Farmers’ Circle in Voivodina was established as a result of inspirations from Hungary. Those working in the field of printed and electronic press established the Hungarian Media Society in Voivodina, while the professsional and literary writers, book and newspaper publishers have set up the Association of Hungarian Publishers in Voivodina. In addition to the Yugoslav National Council of the World Federation of Hungarians (MVSZ JOT), Voivodina’s Pax Romana, and the scout movement, the independent efforts of Voivodina’s Hungarian youth organizations (VMISZ, VIFÓ, VaMaDisz) also deserve mention.





The rights of Voivodina’s national minorities in the field of education are regulated by the laws on education of the Serbian Republic. Before the Serbian Republic terminated the legislative authority of the provinces of Kosovo and Voivodina, public education together with native language education for national minorities were regulated by provincial laws. The four Serbian laws regulating education are the „law on primary school”, the „law on high school”, the „law on college” and the „law on university”.


The provisions of the laws on education on the one hand grant a very broad decision-making authority to school principals and on the other hand place their appointment entirely under the authority of the Ministry of Education. School boards, which are also appointed by the ministry, may only make recommendations regarding the person of the school principal. The above-mentioned measures do not leave any voice, even at the consultative level, for the representatives of national minority organizations, including village and city self-governments, with regard to the appointment or dismisssal of school principals. As a result, principals represent the policy of the ministry and do not (cannot) pay attention to any other interests. This centralization, unique under European conditions, totally deprives national minorities of every form of self-administration in the field of native language education. It excludes them from the decision-making process in a field which is perhaps the most important from the viewpoint of their survival. The Ministry of Education has the exclusive right to prepare the curricula and education programs, and the representatives of national minorities and their professsional organizations have absolutely no right of say in the processs, not even on a consultative basis.


The education laws grant a broad range of rights to school principals, including independent decision-making authority regarding the hiring and dismissal of teachers, the organization of instruction, etc. Under the circumstances of the above-mentioned total centralization, the arbitrary decision made by a few principals resulted in the fact that in numerous schools, also in towns where ethnic groups constitute the majority, students in the minority-language classes are taught most of the subjects in the Serbian language. Five years ago, the teaching of even a single subject in Serbian in a minority-language class was the exception.


The laws on primary school (Sections 129 and 133), on high school (Sections 99 and 100) and on university (Sections 47 and 48) prescribe that in minority-language classes, bilingual official documents, diplomas and report cards be issued to the students (that is in Serbian and in the given minority language). Furthermore, the official records of the school must also be bilingual if the instruction in that school takes place in the minority language. Whoever violates this provision is subject to a fine.


While the sections of the laws on elementary and secondary school applying to minorities – with the exception of the provisions covering school principals – do not represent a setback in comparison with the abrogated education law of Voivodina, the new Serbian laws on higher education have shrunk the rights of national minorities. In colleges and universities, instruction in national minority languages may be organized only with the approval of the Serbian government.


The provision of the law on university is a step backward in comparison with the abrogated Serbian law of 1990, whose Section 43 stipulated that it was mandatory in Voivodina to organize instruction in the national minority language if at least 30 students requested it. The same stipultion was present in Section 21 of the similarly abrogated unified education law of Voivodina. The Serbian laws on higher education adopted in 1992 also limited the rights of the national minorities because, unlike the previous laws, they do not allow entrance examinations in the minority languages if no instruction in those languages takes place in the given institution.


As a result of the above-mentioned restrictions and of the centralizing school laws as well as the emigration due to the war, the number of Hungarian classes and the enrollment of students therein have significantly decreased in Voivodina. According to official reports, there is a drop in the number of native-language students at every level of instruction. For example, while 30,564 elementary school students of Hungarian nationality studied in Hungarian-language classes in 1978, only 26,000 Hungarian students were able to study in 1993 in their native tongue at every level of education.


In the 1996/1997 school year, Hungarian-language instruction at the primary school level was given in 29 localities in Voivodina, in 83 primary schools and 35 branch sections. This represented a total of 22,062 students in 1,042 classes. Compared to the previous school year, the number of elementary school students receiving instruction in the Hungarian language decreased by 5,669 (2.52%) while the number of classes dropped by 18. The biggest numerical decrease occured in northern Voivodina localities: the number of registered students dropped by 143 in Zenta, 78 in Topolya, 70 in Zombor, and 63 in Törökkanizsa. Hungarian-language elementary school instruction for adults was provided in two schools, in Szabadka and Zombor, with 92 participants in a total of eight classes.


Also in the 1996/1997 school year, a total of 5,726 Hungarian students were enrolled in Serbian classes at the primary level, of whom 1,663 (29.04%) studied the Hungarian together with 579 non-Hungarian students. Bilingual instruction in the Serbian and the Hungarian languages was given in four localities and in four music schools, with a total of 435 students, 296 of them ethnic Hungarians, taking part in this type of education.


The situation at the level of secondary education is cause for much greater concern. In the 1996/1997 school year, there were a total of 9,466 ethnic Hungarian high school students in 13 localities in Voivodina. 6,362 of them (67.21%) completed their studies in Hungarian-language classes and 3,104 students (32.79%) in Serbian-language ones. Compared to the previous school year, the number of students dropped by 37 and the number of classes by two. Vocational instruction, in most cases not entirely in Hungarian, is provided in vocational and trade schools. In the early 1990s, the available vocational subjects included mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, transportation, agriculture, forestry, wood processsing, textile and leather industry, chemical industry, graphics, health, architecture, economics, and commerce. However, it was not always possible to fill the ever-diminishing quota numbers because of the unfavorable location of the educational institutions (they were located on purpose in dominantly Serbian-inhabited areas) and growing impoverishment. According to unofficial data, more than 500 high school students enrolled in 1999 in high schools in Hungary.


In the 1996/1997 academic year, a total of 5,080 college and university students were enrolled in Voivodina, of whom 550 (10.83%) were ethnic Hungarians. In the teachers’ training colleges of Újvidék and Szabadka and the Technical College located in Szabadka, a total of 307 ethnic Hungarian students received Hungarian-language education. In the same academic year, 22,808 students attended the University of Újvidék, of whom 1,296 (5.68%) were ethnic Hungarians. A total of 92 students were enrolled in the four classes of the Hungarian Faculty of the University of Újvidék. In the Faculty of Economics of the University of Szabadka, 168 ethnic Hungarian students continued their studies, with the instruction partly conducted in Hungarian (a total of five subjects were available in Hungarian in the first academic year and one in the second year). In the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Szabadka, 55 students took part in Hungarian-language education (in addition to the five subjects available in the first year, an additional two in the second year were taught in Hungarian). At the Academy of Performing Arts of Újvidék, the 12 ethnic Hungarian students enrolled in the Hungarian-language theatrical group could study four subjects in their native language. In the Teachers Training College of Zombor, 54 students, 39 of them ethnic Hungarians, enrolled in the Hungarian language section and received instruction in nine subjects in the Hungarian language.


There is no independent Hungarian-language higher educational institution in Voivodina. Although the legal framework and personnel conditions were available in the early 1980s to commence an entirely Hungarian-language academic year at the faculty of liberal arts of the University of Újvidék, the implementation of this initiative was made impossible. The Association of Hungarian Teachers in Voivodina, later joined by VMSZ and Szabadka’s self-government, held talks about the opening of a branch department in Szabadka of the Attila József University of Szeged, Hungary. In February 1996, the Budapest-based University of Horticulture and Food Industry opened a consultation center in Zenta. Since the same year, the corresponding course consultation center of the Dénes Gábor College of Technology was opened in Szabadka. In 1997, the authorities made an attempt to hinder the functioning of both consultation centers.


The training of Hungarian-language teachers – from kindergarten to high schools teachers – took place between 1946 and 1959 in the Hungarian Department of the Teachers Training College of Újvidék, and afterwards in the Hungarian Department of the Faculty of Liberal Arts of Újvidék University and in the Pedagogic Academies of Újvidék and Szabadka. In 1993, Hungarian teachers training was discontinued in Újvidék and Szabadka, which led to the total liquidation of the relevant institutions. In their place, a Hungarian class was started in a Serbian environment at the University of Zombor, but without full instruction in the Hungarian language. Only during the last university year are certain special subjects taught in Hungarian, without any opportunity to practice Hungarian-language instruction in schools of the city. The talks between VMSZ and President Milošević in September 1998 resulted in the reopening of the Teachers Training College in Szabadka, not as an independent institution but as a branch section of the Teachers Training Department of the University of Zombor. Until the beginning of the 1990s, some 140 primary school and 430 high school teachers graduated from the Faculty of Hungarian Language and Literature of the University of Újvidék (since the end of the 1970s, a considerable number of students also earned qualifications as librarians and translators). 42 students earned masters degrees and another 25 students were awarded the title of doctor of philosophy. In the 1993/1994 academic year, only 16 students applied for the program, compared to 45 regular students during the 1976/1977 academic year, considered the best year ever. Advanced training for teachers is organized by various institutions in Hungary and the Association of Hungarian Teachers in Voivodina. In this field, the fact that Voivodina has no schools inspectors for Hungarian language and literature is a cause for serious concern. There is only one ethnic Hungarian inspector in the whole of Voivodina. Moreover, the inspector’s work has lost its purpose of assisting teachers.


Due to the atrophying of Hungarian teachers training and the emigration in the early 1990s, there is a severe shortage of Hungarian teachers in Voivodina. Research conducted by the Hungarological Scientific Society revealed that in 1998, there was a shortage of 195 teachers in Voivodina’s primary schools and that 60 teachers were to retire in the next four years. The shortage of primary school teachers is felt only in the scattered ethnic Hungarian communities. Even though the number of high school teachers has increased, the number of teachers without or with inadequate qualifications also rose. The situation is only aggravated if one looks at the high number of high school teachers (32) eligible for retirement. Serbian laws do not allow for the employment of visiting teachers from Hungary or the establishment of off-campus branches of Hungarian universities. Moreover, problems with the certification of their diplomas hinder returning Voivodina teachers who graduated in Hungary to begin to teach in the province.


The most acute problem of the very poorly financed educational institutions is the lack of native-language books and text-books. Since the end of the 1980s the Text Book Publishing Institute in Újvidék has discontinued the printing of primary and high school text-books, study aids, and mandatory reading materials in the five languages (including Hungarian) officially recognized in the province. The authorities make it pratically impossible to use text-books from Hungary (while Hungary does not hinder the import and use of Serbian-language text-books and other literary works). To overcome these difficulties, educational booklets instead of text-books, written by local authors, have been published first by the Hungarian-language weekly Családi Kör (Family Circle), then from 1995 on by the Hungarian Text Book Council of Voivodina.


Hungarian-language foundation-sponsored schools and private schools do not function in Voivodina. The only church-owned high school is the Paulinum in Szabadka, which trains Roman Catholic seminarists in the Croatian language.


In the past decade, despite countless surveys, meetings, and discussions all aimed at establishing an independent Hungarian educational institutional network in Voivodina, it has not been possible to achieve any noteworthy progress in that direction.





As an outstanding event of ethnic Hungarian intellectual life in Voivodina, the first Hungarian theatre was established in Szabadka on 29 October 1945. Its performances have reached remote places where not even amateur artists had played before. In 1950, the Hungarian People’s Theatre was established in Topolya, followed in 1953 by the Hungarian Company in Nagybecskerek, which revived Hungarian amateur theatre culture in the Bánát region. Authorities closed down the Hungarian Theatre in Zombor two years after its foundation in 1953 under the pretext that the town’s Hungarian population was less than 5,000.


By 1960 only one theatre remained for Voivodina’s Hungarians, the People’s Theatre in Szabadka. However, since the end of 1950s, the authorities did their best to keep true cultural values away even from the theatre. From the second half of the 1960s, ethnic Hungarian directors led by Mihály Virágh and excellent actors brought on the stage the works of universal Hungarian culture. The dramas Áfonyák (Cranberries) and Légszomj (Breathlessness) by Voivodina’s Ferenc Deák were performed in 1969 and 1971, respectively. The latter play deals with the plight of the Hungarians as a minority in Voivodina. The Hungarian theatre in Szabadka received several high commendations. After the death of Mihály Virágh, the theatre lost some of its earlier standards. But the real downfall of the company and of the entire theatre began in 1985 with the appointment as director of Ljubiša Ristić, an ethnic Serbian who enjoyed the full support of the then leadership of the province. The theatre was taken away from the Hungarians under the pretext that „a purely ethnic theatre was harmful to the health of the minority”. In 1990, a petition calling for the return of the theatre through court proceedings gathered 20,209 signatures, demonstrating the ethnic Hungarians’ desire and right to have in Szabadka a theatre on the basis of their rich cultural and historical traditions. The authorities, however, rejected the request while Ristic labelled as fascists the ethnic Hungarians asking for the return of their native-language theatre. The actors who had to leave their theater scattered, then later began and continued to perform in the Dezső Kosztolányi Theatre. A few years ago, it became possible for the People’s Theatre in Szabadka to function as a Hungarian company under the leadership of Frigyes Kovács. The Kosztolányi Theater led by Ferenc Péter has maintained its independence, and together with the children’s theatre of Szabadka led by Valéria Ágoston Pribilla, has provided the ethnic Hungarians in northern Voivodina with native-language theatrical performances.


In 1973, the Újvidék Theatre was founded and performed at its inauguration István Örkény’s tragicomedy Macskajáték (Cat Game). A very important aspect of the founding of the theatre was the fact that it enriched Yugoslavia’s Hungarians with modern culture that differed from the one offered by the Szabadka theatre. Between 1978 and 1981, the theatre lived through its golden age thanks to the directorship of the Transylvanian-born György Harag, who won fame not only through his staging but also for setting up a permanent company and shaping its true character. By the 10th anniversary of its existence, the theatre was recognized at last as an independent company and was given its own building (which the self-government of Újvidék under the leadership of the extremist Serbian Radical Party wanted to take away in 1994). After the wrecking of the theatre in Szabadka, the Újvidék theatre also had to assume the role of traveling theatre.


The most original initiative of Voivodina’s Hungarian theatrical life was the establishment in 1978 of a summer company by the name of Tanyaszínház (Farm Theatre), which entertained with the once very popular forms of folk and fair theatre the Hungarian settlements and most remote farms in Bácska. Year after year, the company of young actors was able to renew itself and toured not only the Bácska countryside but also the Drávaszög and Muravidék regions, and even Hungary. However, its activity came to a halt after the outbreak of the war in 1991, primarily because of a lack of funds. The Amateur Theatre in Kanizsa also deserves to be mentioned here.


The Hungarian motion picture industry in Voivodina began in the early 1970s. The first feature film entitled Parlag (Fallow), based on Ferenc Deák’s screenpaly, was directed by Károly Vicsek of Újvidék and received the award for best directing in 1974 at the Film Festivals in Pula and San Remo. In 1979, the same twosome was awarded the grand prize of the Pula Festival, the Golden Arena, for its film entitled Trophy. In 1982, however at the press conference presenting the film Sunset, directed by Károly Vicsek and Nándor Gion, a few Serbian film producers from Belgrade declared that the motion picture industry in Voivodina must be brought under the supervision of Belgrade and had to be cleansed of its rural character and its particular (Hungarian) folkloric elements. Between 1977 and 1990, eleven Hungarian television plays were prepared and showed on Újvidék Television, most of them directed by Károly Vicsek.


At the initiative of Zoltán Siflis, the first independent film workshop in Voivodina was established in 1986 under the name of Creative Video Workshop of Topolya. Its creators dealt primarily with themes that analyzed the collective or individual ordeals of the Hungarians who had become a minority in Voivodina, topics which had been taboo in previous years. Of the 30 films made by the Workshop, the following ones deserve mention: Zoltán Siflis’ Rough Times (1987) about the post-World War II compulsory deliveries; Inhabitants of Gádor (1988) directed by Károly Dudás and Zoltán Siflis about the fate of the people living in hovels in the Drávaszög region; An Inquisition (1988), directed by Béla Csorba and Zoltán Siflis about the ill-famed organ affair in Horgos and the ordeal of several teachers in Kanizsa; Our Unburied Deads (1989–1990), made by Zoltán Siflis, Márta Blaskó, Béla Csorba, Károly Dudás and Márton Matuska the atrocities committed in 1944-1945 against the ethnic Hungarians of Voivodina; and Red (1991) made by Magda Szemerédi, Artúr Hoffman and Imre Póth and which shows documents about the the liquidation of Hungarian schools in areas with scattered Hungarian communities.


After 1945, the organization of Hungarian-language book publishing and dissemination became the responsibility of the Federation of Hungarian Culture in Voivodina and later of its successor, the Hungarian Section of the Hungarian Cultural Associations of Yugoslavia’s Voivodina Federation. The Federation initiated the establishment of the Híd Könyvkiadó Vállalat (Bridge Publishing House), which, next to the Fraternity-Unity Book and Journal Publishing House set up in 1951, was at that time the sole publisher of Hungarian-language books. After the Fraternity-Unity Publishing House faced a crisis in 1955–1956, the Forum Publishing House was founded in 1957 and provided with the most modern typographical equipment. Yugoslavia’s first multi-color offset rotary printing press was installed there. This explains why the Forum Publishing House became one of the most important and at the same time the most controversial institution of Voivodina’s Hungarians. Between 1957 and 1991, it published 1,729 book titles, among them the most important works dealing with Hungarian literature, social sciences, and ethnography in Yugoslavia. By the early 1990s, the consequences of the war-induced crisis also reached the Forum House and its situation became even worse as the publishe lost its influence over the printing house and its independent legal status within the Forum House. Today, the book publishing house is formally a state enterprise and shares the fate of the other state-owned minority institutions as a result of the Serbian state’s restrictive policy. The survival of the printing house has been made possible only because of the financial support given by Hungary.


After 1973, the so-called Életjel (Sign of Life) books published by the Workers’ University of Szabadka played an important role in filling this gap. Since its inception, the Research Institute for Hungarian Language, Literature and Hungarology contributed with nearly 220 publications to the dissemination of works on Hungarian literature, linguistics and ethnography in Voivodina. The Hungarian Cultural Society in Yugoslavia, with the support of foundations in Hungary and elsewhere, also carries on a significant book publishing activity. In the field of religious book publication, next to Agape in Újvidék, the Logos Graphic Workshop in Tóthfalu plays an increasingly greater role in the publication of religious books. The Workshop also publishes books dealing with vital issues regarding the ethnic Hungarians in Voivodina. Since the beginning of the war years in 1991, more and more literary works written in Voivodina are published by publishing houses in Hungary.


For decades, the only state-financed institution in the field of Hungarian-language scientific research was the Hungarian Faculty of the University of Újvidék, established in 1959, even though it initially carried out mainly teaching tasks. The Institute of Hungarology was set up on 21 June 1968 and actually began to function 1 on February 1969 under the direction of István Szeli. The Institute’s scientific objectives included research on the language, literature, culture and ethnography of Yugoslavia’s Hungarians, with special emphasis on the relationship between southern Slav and Hungarian literature and cultural history. Sociological and demographic research on the ethnic Hungarians, however, was out of question. In 1976, the Institute lost its independence and was merged with the Hungarian Department under the name of Research Institute for Hungarian Language, Literature and Hungarology. Under the Serbian law on higher education, it became again from 1993 on a faculty in the traditional sense of the term The results of the research carried out by the department and the institute in the fields of literary history, literary theory, and linguistics are significant when compared to the standards of universal Hungarian literary science and philology. The publication of the Serbo-Croatian-Hungarian big dictionary was also done in the framework of the faculty’s research activities.


On 24 June 1990, the Hungarian Cultural Society in Yugoslavia (JMMT) grouping intellectuals was established with the following objectives: „to stimulate the creative work of the community, popularize its results, assert the role of the literary culture of the nationalities, systematically nurture the relationship between the literary culture of southern Slavs and that of other nations and nationalities, protect the interests of writers, assist self-supporting activities, and institutionally guarante authors’ and human rights”. Since its inception, the Society has organized numerous conferences, the most important of which was a series of debates on „How to go on after the war?” which sought answers to issues relating to Hungarian-language education, culture, and information. The conference entitled „A comprehensive examination of the Hungarian educational plans in Voivodina” set out to prepare the establishment of a comprehensive system for Hungarian-language education. By virtue of its outstanding book publishing activity, JMMT, with István Bosnyák as its president, significantly contributes to the enrichment of the intellectual life of Voivodina’s Hungarians.


The Scientific Society for Hungarology Research (MTT), founded in 1992, set as its goal the strengthening of previously neglected societal researches. It examines primarily those issues which are of vital importance to the ethnic Hungarians in Voivodina. Among its most important research topics, the following deserve mention: the demographic indicators of Voivodina’s Hungarians (migration in the 1990s); the past, present and future of Hungarian-language education in Voivodina; the national identity consciousness of Hungarians in Voivodina; the role of religion in the shaping of national identity; scientists and their works (in Voivodina) in the 20th century; studies on the knowledge of one’s country; and the characteristics and life-styles of Hungarian localities in Voivodina. The MTT Library has also published a series of books which summarize the scientific aspects of the most burning issues affecting the Hungarians living in Voivodina. The president of MTT is Irén Molnár Gábrity. In connection with Hungarian-language scientific research in Voivodina, the thematic issues of Létünk (Our Existence), the publications which have appeared in Új Symposion, and the sociological and demographic research done by Károly Mirnics also deserve mention.





The vast majority of ethnic Hungarians in Voivodina is Roman Catholic while most of the remaining portion is Protestant (Reformed, i.e. Calvinist).


Of the 360,000 faithful belonging to the Roman Catholic diocese of Bácska, with its seat in Szabadka, 80 percent (approximately 290,000) are ethnic Hungarians, and the remainder predominantly Croatians. Only a very small number of German, Slovak and Ruthenian Catholics still live on the territory of the diocese. In the Roman Catholic bishopric of Bánát, with its seat in Nagybecskerek (Zrenjanin), there are 90,000 faithful, of whom 90 percent (approximately 70,000) are ethnic Hungarians. Only very few Croatian, Bulgarian, Czech and German faithful reside in this bishopric. For the first time since the 1920 Trianon Treaty, both church dioceses are headed by ethnic Hungarian clergymen, Bishop János Pénzes in Szabadka Bisho and Bishop László Huzsvár in Nagybecskerek.


On the territory of the 13 congregations and 35 scattered congregations of the Reformed Christian Church of Yugoslavia, with its seat in Feketics (Feketić), the number of faithful has dropped below 15,000. Together with their Bishop István Szemesi, they are practically all ethnic Hungarians. A small number of other Hungarian Protestant churches, among which the Lutheran Church in Bajmok, led superintendant Árpád Dolinszki, is the most important one, function in the province of Voivodina.


During the era of Communist Party rule, every form of the religious worship was penalized and clergymen were in effect driven outside the framework of society. As a result, the national consciousness-shaping influence of the churches could hardly assert itself among the Catholics – this situation was made worse by the non-use of the Hungarian language by many Croatian priests – while being somewhat stronger among the Protestants. Since clergymen were hardly able to become involved in the life of the local society, their influence upon the life of Hungarian communities involved was very slight. With the advent of political pluralism, the public activities of the two Hungarian Roman Catholic bishops and their churches consist mainly of taking certain anti-war steps, in intensifying charitable work and, in some places, in launching enterprises. The parish of Tóthfalu (Totovo Selo), to which the Retreat House and Culture Center of the Bishopric of Szabadka belong, plays an important role in the spiritual life of Voivodina’s Hungarians. Domus Pacis, the spiritual and community house of the Franciscan Order of Croatia, located near Horgos, has become famous for the strength that radiates from it. The Little St. Theresa parish in Zenta (Senta) and the various activities centered around it, part of which are carried out jointly with the Lajos Thurzó Public Education Center, are also of great importance. The assiduous efforts of both the Roman Catholic and Reformed Churches in the interest of the preservation of the Hungarian communities dispersed throughout Szerémség and southern Bánát also deserve mention.


The Catholic and the Protestant Churches both suffer from a shortage of clergymen, which puts an increasing burden upon the current aging clergy. This situation, along with the placing of non-Hungarian language priests in part of the Catholic parishes and the ethnic changes within settlements and families, all limit religious worship in the Hungarian language and the role of the churches in preserving the Hungarian communities. The Roman Catholic and the Reformed Churches have been excluded from the restitution of church properties.


Recently, attacks against Hungarian priests and religious institutions have reached alarming proportions. During the Kosovo conflict with NATO, unknown perpetrators blew up the Roman Catholic prayer house at Káptalanfalva (Bušenje). During summer 1999, several parish houses in Voivodina, among them that of Mohol (Mol), were broken into. On 4 October 1999, in the courtyard of the Reformed parsonage of Magyarittabé (Novi Itbej), unknown perpetrators manhandled Ilona Márton, the wife of the local pastor who serves in Nagybecskerek (Zrenjamin). In the evening of 9 November 1999, in the Catholic parish of Tóthfalu (Totovo Selo), unknown persons speaking a dialect from the Krajina region beat up the local parish priest, Jenő Utasi, a retired priest from Bezdán, Ferenc M. Kecskés, and the female religious instructor serving the parish whose ribs and fingers were fractured. During the fall, the crosses erected in the Catholic cemetary of Újvidék on Futaki Road in memory of the Hungarian victims of the 1944-1945 massacres were vandalized on two occasions.





Even though the number of Hungarian-language press publications in Voivodina is deceptively high, in reality they are struggling with serious problems. The transformation in 1990 of newspaper editorial boards into so-called public enterprises led to a direct say by the state into editorial policy and personnel questions. Neither the Hungarian interest protection organizations nor the cultural associations are represented in the bodies of the communication media. The information law of the Serbian Republic adopted in October 1998, which is in its entirety in contradiction with the freedom to expresss one’s opinion, exposes the representatives of the ethnic Hungarian press to a serious threat because of its repressive and retaliatory character. The dailies, weeklies, and periodicals still remaining in state hands are faced with a severe financial crisis, which cannot be entirely explained by the economic sanctions imposed upon the country. The obvious reason is more likely to be a concealed effort on the part of the authorities to strangle the minority and opposition-controlled press. Private newspapers are nearly on the verge of liquidation because of losses due to the small number of copies sold and the reduction in consumer purchasing power. In the 1990s, practically every Hungarian-language periodical had to rely on paper and financial support from Hungary.


The only Hungarian-language daily of Voivodina’s Hungarians is Magyar Szó (Hungarian Word), published in Újvidék and which is entering its 56th year after its foundation by the Provincial Assembly of Voivodina. After Magyar Szó, along with other presss publications, was transformed in 1990 into a public enterprise, the authorities intervened in a more direct way in its editorial and personnel policy. They wanted to remove the editor-in-chief and replace him with a member of the ruling party. However, this plan failed due to the unanimous opposition of the editorial board and the solidarity expressed by the multi-ethnic readers and fellow journalists. Since then, the state subsidy to the newspaper has been drastically cut as well as the quantity of printing paper, under the pretext of supply difficulties caused by the war. In 1993 the daily stopped publication for a short time and later appeared more rarely. In the past years, it was forced to significantly reduce its size and to discontinue its regional and thematic supplement. In 1998 and 1999, the entire editorial office went on strike to protest the lack of state subsidy and non-payment of salaries. In 1999, the number of copies of the weekday edition of Magyar Szó was around 5,000, that of the Thursday edition was 22,000 and of the Sunday edition, 28,000 (with 10 percent returned copies). Despite the state subsidy and the financial support from self-government in Voivodina and from Hungary, the daily closed the year 1998 with a deficit of 305,000 YUD. A successful outcome of its efforts to gain independence within the Forum Holding would only solve part of the paper’s concerns. A reorganization of the editorial office on the basis of modern principles is a task which can no longer be delayed.


Among the weeklies, 7 Nap (7Days) looks back to a most illustrious past when it was published in more than 55,000 copies in the mid-1980s. It first appeared in the format of a daily and later became very popular as a colorful family magazine with its substantial and fact-finding reports, outspoken articles, and colorful and entertaining short stories. In fall 1990, 7 Nap was also transformed into a public enterprise which led to its elimination in 1993 because of recurring interference on the part of the authorities The members of the editorial staff soon launched a private newspaper under the name of Új Hét Nap (New Seven Days), which after a few issues also ceased publication. On 4 August 1994, Szabad Hét Nap (Free Seven Days) was launched as a high-standard, politically-oriented weekly family magazine which assumed the original character of 7 Nap and also revived the regional and thematic supplements Magyar Szó had been forced to drop. Until recently, the number of copies of the magazine was between 14,000 and 16,000 but in 1999, the magazine was forced to reduce its number of copies to 11,000 due to the high printing costs. With a size of 68 pages, the weekly, which sees itself as the spiritual heir of 7 Nap, pays considerable attention to the analysis of the vital questions affecting Hungarians in Voivodina and throughout the world. Until the end of 1998, Körkép, the bulletin of VMSZ, was published as a supplementary section of the weekly. Since Szabad Hét Nap receives no state subsidy, it faces serious financial difficulties which can be only partially solved by the support of self-governments with a Hungarian majority in Szabadka and other localities in Voivodina, and by that of foundations in Hungary. In the meantime, the authorities restarted 7 Nap, which, thanks to state support, appears regularly as a 26-page bi-weekly published in 5,500 copies. Its editorial policy is in conformity with the guiding principles set forth by the regime.


The illustrated magazine Dolgozók (Workers), financially supported by the trade unions, ceased publication in 1990 in its 43th year. It was soon replaced by the independent weekly magazine Családi Kör (Family Circle). The 68-page magazine is published by Forum-Workers Inc. Because of its easily readable and entertaining character, it is published in several ten thousand copies, but it seldom contains articles about problems of interest to ethnic Hungarians.


Founded in the late 1960s, Képes Ifjúság (Youth Illustrated) functioned for some two decades as a paper that influenced not only the young generation but the entire Hungarian community. Its courageous tone and its raising of serious social problems and of issues affecting the minority, and later its opposition to the war in the 1990s soon drew the anger of the authorities. Since 1991 the paper has been subjected to the same strangulation policy as experienced by the other Hungarian newspapers. Presently, it functions within the framework of Forum Holding and has seven employees. Since its state subsidy became merely symbolic, it suspended publication in March 1999 and during the NATO action. During the summer, it was offered one page every week in the daily Magyar Szó. Due to the editor-in-chief’s open anti-regime attitude and the decrease of young Hungarian readers in Voivodina, the future of the magazine can be safely solved only if it becomes totally independent.



Mézeskalács (Honey Cake) is a monthly publication for children of kindergarten and elementary school age. It is published monthly on 32 small-size pages in 8,000 copies. Jó Pajtás (Good Buddy) offers reading materials to primary school students on 32 pages every week during the entire school year. At the beginning of the 1990s, its publication ceased several times, then the Forum Holding took possession of its founding rights, which did not resolve anything. In fall 1993, its publication was again suspended temporarily and, after a major battle, the periodical withdrew from the Forum Holding and became a private newspaper. The state responded by withdrawing its subsidy to Jó Pajtás. Because of the large-scale reduction in the number of Hungarian children, the financial situation of the weekly remains uncertain to this day. Its publication is supported by the self-government of Szabadka and the Illyés Public Foundation in Hungary.


Between 1990 and 1997, the privately-funded Hungarian-language community weekly Napló (Diary) appeared as a high-standard liberal paper. Its unrelenting critique of both the authorities and the mistakes of the minority organizations, and its anti-war stand authenticate to this day the character of the weekly at home and abroad. Following the death of its editor-in-chief and because of financial difficulties, it has ceased publication.


In a few regions inhabited by Hungarians, self-governments are publishing bi-weekly papers, such as Új Kanizsai Újság and Dunatáj. Local newspapers are published, among other locations in Palics (Palić), Csantavér (Cantavir), Kishegyes (Mali Iđoš), and Magyarcsernye (Nova Crnja).


The literary and cultural periodical Híd (Bridge), published in Újvidék, was launched between the two world wars and can look back at a long history. The journal Üzenet (Message), which has a more regional character, can also look back at several decades of publication. Among the profession-related papers, Új Kép (New Perspective), a pedagogical periodical deserves mention. Of the publications of the Churches, Hitélet (Religious Life) and Útitárs (Travel Companion) should be mentioned.


Since 1968, Belgrade Television has broadcast informative, cultural, agricultural and children’s programs in the Hungarian language. In 1975, this role was taken over by Újvidék Television. From the beginning of the 1990s, one can also witness here the scaling down of personnel and of television time, as well as the authorities’direct intervention in the contents and intellectuality of the programs. More and more editorial staff members left because of the pressure exerted upon them, the forced vacations, the military call-ups, and the war itself. The editorial staff, which numbered 100 in 1988, dropped to 35 by September 1998 and a mere 23 by September 1999. During NATO’s airstrikes against the television building, the technical equipment and part of the documentation were destroyed. Currently, the television station is operating in seven-eight locations, and the programs are prepared in a basement. After 31 years, the air-time of Hungarian-language television programs has fallen back to the level at which it started in 1968, that is a single daily 10-minute news report five days a week and a weekly 30-minute magazine program with varying topics. News reports are mostly illustrated with motionless pictures, and are limited to those of theTanjug News Agency.


Until recent years, Radio Újvidék had its independent Hungarian-language editorial office and broadcast its programs 24 hours a day on the medium wave length. In 1991, one third of the broadcast time was switched to the ultra-short wave length, which diminished its reception. Due to the attempt to dictate editorial policy and the departure of staff members, the editor-in-chief resigned in 1993 and immigrated to Hungary. Following the NATO airstrikes, the radio station was also destroyed. However, while the Serbian-language programs were allocated audible frequencies, the Hungarian-language program was given one medium wave length that could hardly be received in Voivodina. This has resulted in the splitting of the air time between the various national minority languages. The major part of the middle wave length Hungarian-language program is broadcast during the night. Instead of the destroyed 1kW capacity radio transmitter, only a 100 Watt transmitter is currently used for broadcasting, covering only the vicinity of Újvidék. Currently the heavily diminished editorial staff (the radio’s actors and drama editors are on forced leave and the most popular youth programs have been dropped) counts only 56 members.


Prior to NATO’s airstrikes, Radio Szabadka, established by the local self-government, could be heard in practically the whole territory of Voivodina. Currently, it can be received only within a 30-kilometer radius around Szabadka. The airtime and technical equipment are shared by three editorial offices. The Hungarian and Serbian language program is broadcast six hours a day each, the Croatian-language program, one hour. The editorial office has ten permanent and eight contractual employeees. Next to hourly news, Radio Szabadka broadcasts mostly reports on daily happenings and has a few regular programs devoted to education, the theatre, and events. It also puts great emphasis on the presentation of events particularly affecting Hungarians, and its programs are also broadcast by Radio Kanizsa.








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