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Kosovo's Independence Worries Ethnic Hungarians in the Balkans

Political leaders of large ethnic Hungarian communities in Serbia and neighboring countries say the international recognition of Kosovo could lead to more hardship for minorities in the region. They spoke at a government-sponsored conference in Budapest. Stefan Bos reports for VOA.

Wednesday's meeting in Budapest on ethnic minorities came just a week after Serbia's neighbors Hungary, Bulgaria and Croatia recognized Kosovo as an independent country.

Officials of ethnic Hungarians living in Serbia and even Romania have expressed concerns about the move, saying it could lead to revenge attacks against them by those opposing Kosovo's independence.

These fears are especially evident in the Serbian province of Vojvodina, home of some 300,000 ethnic Hungarians.

Istvan Pastor is president of the political party Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians, an ethnic Hungarian party with seats in the provincial and national parliaments.

Pastor told VOA he wasn't pleased with Hungary's decision to recognize Kosovo.

"It's an obvious fact. Let me tell you if somebody is living as a minority in his own homeland, but still not in his own motherland, this is a danger one always has to reckon with," he said.

At least 2.5 million ethnic Hungarians live in areas that were part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy that was broken up after World War I.

Despite the tensions, Hungarian government officials appealed to ethnic Hungarians to understand their decision to recognize Kosovo. Among them was Erika Torzsok, who leads the Department of National Policy at the prime ministers office.

"There were discussions between the Hungarian foreign ministry and the Hungarians of Vojvodina Province on this matter. We tried to explain them that Hungary realizes the sensitivities and was therefore not among the first countries to recognize the independence of Kosovo. The independence of Kosovo was granted by the international community," she said.

One of the proposals at the conference was to ensure that other areas in Europe will not follow Kosovo's example by promoting more rights and autonomy for the millions of ethnic Hungarians living in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

Supporters of this plan include Attila Varga. He is deputy leader of the parliamentary party Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania, which claims to represent the estimated 1.5 million ethnic Hungarians living in Romania.

"I believe the major learning [of Kosovo's independence] is that minorities should be granted autonomy together with rights to avoid a situation like we had in Kosovo, where violence was applied," he said.

Hungary has officially recognized Kosovo's independence.