What will they think of next?

by Eszter Hargittai on December 4, 2004

Amidst all the election news of the past month from all over, I have had little energy to compile a post about a referendum taking place tomorrow in Hungary: extending Hungarian citizenship to Hungarians living outside of Hungary’s borders. (Pick any country around Hungary and you’ll find relevant populations from Slovakia to Romania, from Serbia to Ukraine). When a nationalist party becomes desperate in securing votes, it comes up with interesting ideas. Why not extend voting rights to all Hungarians across the globe? Those who left in 1956 or who live as frustrated minorities in other countries may be the perfect targets for their nationalistic message. Give those people voting rights and the party may be able to secure quite a bit of popularity in the future.

Apparently there are no details about what it would take for people to prove their Hungarian “origins” (seems like opening a can of worms to be asking that kind of a question in this area of the world). That may be one aspect that would allow the current government (made up of parties that are not backing this initiative) to temper the effects of a majority yes vote.

One facet of all this of additional interest to me is how the country would proceed with the voting rights of those living abroad. The only way those of us abroad can currently cast our votes is to go to the Hungarian embassy in the country in which we reside. Obviously, this leads to few votes from those not residing in Hungary. For the initiative to be really effective, they would have to tweak this part of the system as well.

The outcome of the referendum tomorrow will only count if at least a quarter of those eligible to vote – so about two million people – plus one vote for the same outcome.

UPDATE (Sunday, Dec. 5, 2:30pm CST): The referendum did not get the requisite number of votes with the same outcome to count. Out of 8 million 24 thousand eligible voters, at least 2 million 6 thousand plus one would have had to vote yes. With 95 percent of votes counted (36.8 percent participation), 1.39 million voted yes to expanding citizenship to Hungarians beyond the country’s borders, 1.32 voted no. Let’s not even think about how much this whole fiasco cost the country…



Patrick Nielsen Hayden 12.04.04 at 9:13 pm

Hey, I live in a country named after a Hungarian saint! I think that should count for something.


John Quiggin 12.04.04 at 9:59 pm

Do you mean “country” or “county” ?


Factory 12.04.04 at 10:08 pm

While I’m all for opposing nationalistic agendas on principle, since my father left in 1956, I would be benefitting from this change. Hmm.. Although if they do not translate the voting forms into English, erm, it might be a bit hard to vote. :)


Matt 12.05.04 at 4:35 am

Forget voting- the real benefit would be getting access to EU citizenship (if idiots afraid of Turkey don’t screw that idea all up…) One never knows when one might want to stop being an American.


gmoke 12.05.04 at 5:58 am

Magyar útlevél
A Hungarian Passport Sandra Kogut | Hungary | 2001 | 72 min. | Analog Video


What does a Hungarian passport mean? Sandra Kogut was born in Brazil, lives in Paris, but has Hungarian origins. She is searching for her Hungarian roots and decides to contact the Hungarian authorities and find the documents that prove her Hungarian citizenship. She wants to find out what it means to have a piece of paper in our pocket which determines our nationhood, our citizenship and our identity.

Seen it. Interesting film. Medyessy reality?


Factory 12.05.04 at 7:35 am

‘One never knows when one might want to stop being an American.’
Considering that I have never been to the US, that is not a problem. :)


drapeto 12.05.04 at 11:03 am

representation without taxation is tyranny.


Tom T. 12.05.04 at 7:23 pm

Amerigo Vespucci is a Hungarian saint?


mike d 12.05.04 at 11:10 pm

Mexico has been discussing for the past couple of years giving Mexicans abroad the right to vote in national elections, and I believe recently made it legal to do so. As this mostly affects the 10M Mexicans in the US, the fact that Mexico has 45 consulates across the US makes voting a bit easier…


P O'Neill 12.05.04 at 11:25 pm

One can think of several recent elections in central europe where the turnout constraint has proven binding — I wonder what the political science experts make of the rationale for these rules since they in effect convert passive opposition into active No votes, which is maybe the point.


DoDo 12.06.04 at 1:34 pm

Hooray, the dual citizenship proposal was crushed! So we won’t be the next arsonists of Central Europe, after all. I am much less happy that the other question, about stopping the privatisation of hospitals, fell 0.65% short of the required 25% of all voting-age citizens.

The results were:

participation 37.5% (even less than predicted)

dual citizenship 51.5% “Yes” (similar to opinion polls, but pollsters expected greater turnout from the pro side)

stopping hospital privatisation 65.0% “Yes” (same as above)


Thlayli 12.07.04 at 1:25 am

I have a couple of great-grandparents who left a village that was in Hungary then, but is not now, around 1900. What are my chances of getting somewhere with this?

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