null Message from the Minority Ombudsman on the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Act on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities

“The specific individual and community rights of national and ethnic minorities are fundamental freedoms (...) The totality of these rights is not a gift of the majority and not a privilege of the minority, and their source is not the numerical proportion of national and ethnic minorities, but the right to be different, based on respect for individual freedom and social peace.” On 7 July 1993, the National Assembly adopted the Act LXXVII of 1993 on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities, which upheld these principles.

The adoption of the Act on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities 30 years ago was preceded by unprecedented intense professional work and extensive scientific and political consultation, thanks to the persistent activities of minority NGOs, experts committed to the cause and prominent national minority personalities active at the time. The social and professional acceptance of the law and the broad consensus in favour of minority rights protection were confirmed by the circumstances of its adoption: as a result of a six-party consensus, the National Assembly adopted the Act – which was unique of its kind even in international comparison – by an almost unanimous majority of 96.5%.

After the change of regime, the Act on Minorities granted, in a very forward-looking way, in detail, fundamental individual and – in a different way from international standards – collective rights for the thirteen national and ethnic minorities living in Hungary that were subject to its scope. The wide-ranging rights granted by the legislator have created an exemplary system of legal protection in Hungary, the defining feature of which is the system of minority self-government, which serves to preserve the self-identity, language, culture, spiritual and material traditions of minority communities and provides them with extensive self-government and cultural autonomy.

The fact that the new cardinal law on the rights of national minorities, adopted in 2011 following the provisions of the Fundamental Law, shows a broad textual consistency in addition to the regulatory concept, is a major proof of the social and professional timelessness of the original legislation.

In the three decades since the adoption of the Act on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities, the field of minority rights has become one of the most complex segments of the Hungarian legal system: the legal framework based on international foundations, which is extremely thoroughly drafted and dogmatically elaborated, now has advanced support and control mechanisms. Its stable historical and broad social foundations are coupled with a continuous and dynamic capacity for renewal. It is both a responsive and a strong regulatory environment, which still provides the basis for the enforcement of rights and interests of nearly one million stakeholders in our country.

In my work as Minority Ombudsman, I constantly monitor the rights of nationalities living in Hungary, and despite the often-changing social processes and legislative environment, I strive to consistently uphold the principles and professional standards laid down 30 years ago, while at the same time renewing them where possible and necessary.

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Law on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities, I would like to express my gratitude to all the national minority communities, then and now, who fill the provisions of the Act with the diversity and colourfulness of nationality life and, like me, work every day to better enforce national minority rights.

                                                                                      Prof. Elisabeth Sándor-Szalay
                                                                                          Minority Ombudsman