PER Report: Parliamentary representation of minorities in Hungary: legal and political issues

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Date: Fri, 8 Jun 2001 12:07:43 +0300 (EEST)
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Subject: PER Report: Parliamentary representation of minorities in Hungary: legal and political issues

From: MINELRES moderator <>

PER Report: Parliamentary representation of minorities in Hungary:
legal and political issues 

The report is also available in PDF format at PER web-site:




Minority Representation in Parliament - Inevitable Next Step? 
Representation for All Minorities - or Some? 
Finding an Accommodative Law, Clarifying What the Constitution Says 
"Three-Vote" or "Two-Vote" Model? 
Setting a Minimum Number of Votes and Nailing Down Other Details 
Consensus Slowly Developing
A Mix of Optimism and Pessimism 
Closing Remarks 
List of Participants 
Other PER Publications 


Hungary has launched one of Europe's most comprehensive efforts to
address the needs of its ethnic minorities, including unique
provisions for self-govern-ment. This policy is motivated by the wish
to set an example for neighboring countries with large Hungarian
minorities, as well as by the need to satisfy the demands of Hungary's
own minorities. 

One puzzle that remains unresolved is how to assure ethnically based
parlia-mentary representation at the national level. Except for the
large Romani minority, all of Hungary's twelve other recognized
minorities are very small and some are geographically dispersed. (The
Greek minority for example, numbers fewer than 1,000.) Another factor
is that Hungary's 386-member parliament is unicameral, so that the
addition of even one mandatory place for each of the thirteen
recognized minorities could have unpredictable effects on the balance
of power in governments that typically are made up of coalitions.
There is also the question of how to balance the expectations of a
large minority the Roma, with those of the small minorities. 

Despite the Hungarian Constitutional Court's 1994 decision mandating
passage of a law that would provide for the representation of ethnic
minorities in Parliament, seven years later no such law yet exists. As
readers of this revealing report will learn, the problem is only
partly one of the unwillingness of political leaders to act; it is
also exceptionally difficult to find a formula that will satisfy the
wishes of all of the minorities without creating problems for the
main-stream parties or for the functioning of Parliament itself
Implicit in this quandary is the question of whether minorities should
be disproportionately represented and, if so, to what degree. 

This report is an account of a meeting on this subject organized by
PER in May 2000 for government officials, representatives of the major
political parties, and leaders of ethnic minorities. Their discussion
was especially instructive, because it illustrates how difficult it
can be to implement even the best-intended and forward-looking
minorities policies when it comes to devising the actual details. The
Hungarians' struggle also raises the larger issue of whether there is
one right way to protect minority interests. For example, is it fair
to give members of ethnic minorities two votes for members of
parliament-one for candidates at large, another reserved only for
their group? Other countries are struggling with various solutions. In
neighboring Romania, for example, one parliamen-tary seat is reserved
for each of the eighteen recognized minorities (with ethnic parties
also free to compete for other seats) but this arrangement pertains
only to the lower chamber of a bicameral parliament, and thus limits
its impact. 

There were strong expressions of political will at the meeting and a
seeming readiness among the most important political parties to find
compromises. But there has been no movement since then. Hungarian
decision-makers will soon-er or later have to return to the issue,
barring an unlikely constitutional change. We hope that the record of
this debate will be useful to them and instructive for those in other
countries who must resolve similar questions. 

This report was prepared by FEE'S Budapest office, under the
supervision of Ferenc Melykuti. PER assumes full responsibility for
the text, which has not been reviewed by the participants. 

Allen H. Kassof, President 
Princeton, New Jersey 
March 2001 

MINELRES - a forum for discussion on minorities in Central&Eastern

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