The Language Rights of  Minorities in Hungary

Maria Demeter Zayzon


According to official census figures national, ethnic groups in today’s Hungary make up about 3% of the country’s population of around ten million. According to estimations from organisations representing minorities the ethnic groups in Hungary come nearer to 10% of the total population.

Law LXXVII, accepted ten  years ago in 1993 (and referred to below as the “minority law”)  deals with the individual rights of national and ethnic minorities. It also guarantees rights of a collective nature to the 13  indigenous minorities in Hungary (i.e. Bulgarians, Gypsies, Greeks, Croatians, Poles, Germans, Armenians, Romanians, Rusin, Serb, Slovak, Slovenes and Ukrainians). It is a feature that the 13 ethnic minorities are geographically spread out all over the country and in areas where Hungarian is the majority language. This has been promoted by, and indeed has promoted a process of assimilation and, among other things, has had an effect on language use. To a greater or lesser degree their respective sociological situations differ from one another. The same can be said for their respective degrees of assimilation, their age composition,  their internal  organisation, their religious affiliations, their connections with their mother countries and  the strength of  their sense of belonging together. In the spirit of  the international recommendations accepted by Hungary the practical application of formulated language rights with respect to the use of the minorities’ use of  their own mother tongues has slowed down the process of language loss. The establishment of institutions by minoriities requesting  that they can use their own  mother tongue has brought positive changes. Such developments have been able to stop and even reverse the process of language loss which has been going on at a significantly rapid rate in recent decades. The official background affirming that all this can take place securely is provided by the secretariat of the Office of the Prime Minister, the parliamentary commissioner for minority rights, the local government institutions of  the minority nationalities and the Office for Ethnic and National Minorities.

The aims underlying the law of 1993 were to give minorities the right to be educated in their mother tongue; today the primary objective of  this is to revive and refresh the language and culture of the minorities. For this great help is provided by the public services media which are obliged to broadcast programmes that have been produced in a particular minority language.

Hungarian legal practice has gone a long way to satisfying the expectations of the Charter for Minority Languages and other recommendations. However, this does not mean that there is no need to continue to broaden the de jure and de facto language rights of minorities. For example, among the tasks to be carried out in the near future is amendment of the law on criminal procedure so that there is a refining of the rights with respect to the written and oral use of regional and minority languages.