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Hungarian Referendum on Ethnic Citizenship Invalid


A referendum in Hungary on whether to grant citizenship to millions of ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries has been declared invalid because of a low voter turnout. The outcome was disappointing for Hungarian minorities abroad who saw the ballot as a way to re-unite the people of Hungary.

Religious songs have long been part of the cultural heritage they share with their countrymen in Hungary. And there was hope among ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary that Sunday's referendum would enable them to also have the same, Hungarian passports.

But their dreams were shattered when election officials said the referendum was invalid because most voters stayed away from the polls.

Results showed that the "yes" votes slightly edged out those against. But the result is not binding on the Socialist-led government because less than the required 25-percent of Hungary's eight million eligible voters supported it.

Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, who voted against granting citizenship and discouraged people from participating in the referendum, said he was pleased with the outcome.

In his words Hungary had shown it "does not confuse nationalism with responsible patriotism." Mr. Gyurcsany's government had expressed concern that at least hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries of citizenship would come to Hungary to receive social benefits, costing the country up to three billion dollars annually. Prime Minister Gyurcsany also said it could destabilize the region.

Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase already blasted the ballot as "insane" and said he was against granting of citizenship in his country based on ethnic rather than an individual basis.

In addition the European Union, which Hungary joined this year, has made clear it does not want to import nationalistic tensions.

But leaders of the estimated three million ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries criticized Hungary's government for not supporting the referendum and a "yes" vote.

Joining the chorus of critics is Andras Agoston, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Vojvodina, a Serbian province with an estimated 300,000 ethnic Hungarians.

Mr. Agoston suggests the Budapest government has betrayed his Hungarian community.

He says we Hungarians in Vojvodina for 15 years did everything to help Hungary join the European Union. Now Hungary is in the EU and now there is a new situation. In this new situation we ask double citizenship," he explains.

And Mr. Agoston adds: "I don't understand why the EU is so surprised, double citizenship is nothing new in the Union."

Backers of Sunday's referendum sought to redress what they regard as an historic injustice.

Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory and one-third of its population when its borders were redrawn after World War I.

Of the millions of ethnic Hungarians living as minorities in neighboring countries, up to two million are in Romania, 600,000 in Slovakia, and others in Croatia, Ukraine, Slovenia and Austria.

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