On both sides of the Atlantic, the left-leaning political elite seems to have placed the remedying of perceived or real historic injustices committed by European nations against ethnic minorities and identity groups at the center of their manifestos. However, it appears that only groups that fit the liberal class’ political ambitions qualify for protection or compensation.
In the US, for instance, President Joe Biden had promised preferential treatment for businesses owned by non-white ethnic groups affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, including for Asians, who earn more income on average than Whites. In Europe, violence seems to be an acceptable feature at Black Lives Matter demonstrations justified by the mainstream media on alleged “White supremacy” grounded in colonial history.
Native European minorities, however, some of whom are still bearing the devastating consequences of two world wars, enjoy no special status or protection, nor are they in line for compensation for grievances that they have suffered as a result of settlements between world powers.
In his address to the European Parliament’s plenary session, Loránt Vincze, MEP for the Romanian Hungarian Democratic Alliance (RMDSZ), which represents the Hungarian minority living in Romania, he emphasized that abolishing the Beneš decrees remains a historic debt owed on the part of Slovakia. Yet, the “duty of the European Union, that purports to be the defender of fundamental human rights, and claims to condemn all forms of discrimination, won’t speak out in this matter and condemn the discrimination against the Hungarian minority in Slovakia.”
The Decrees, issued in 1945 after the Second World War, bear the name of the then president of Czechoslovakia Edvard Beneš, who had drafted them in order to rebuild the war ravaged country but also to deal with segments of the population who have been declared collectively guilty of collaboration with the German occupiers.
Mostly Germans and Hungarians were stripped of their citizenship, their property confiscated, and many were used as forced labor or were imprisoned. Citizens with Hungarian nationality were not allowed to turn to courts, and all newspapers in their native languages were closed down. Their pensions were confiscated, and they were forbidden to use their languages in public life. After 1945, over 40.000 of them were forcibly transported in cattle carriages to the Sudeten lands, and finally, between 1947 and 1949, almost 90.000 Hungarians were forced to leave the territory of what is Slovakia today.
Although these decrees are still in force and their legal status has been reaffirmed by the Slovakian Parliament in 2018, this topic is regarded as exceptionally contentious between countries of the Visegrád Four alliance, which consists of Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Thus, it is almost never brought up during bilateral negotiations. Yet, the reasons for opening this can of worms is two-fold: on the one hand, Hungary is calling into questions the EU’s double standards regarding rule of law proceedings against the Viktor Orbán government by essentially questioning whether the EU has the moral high ground to do so in view of the existence of such undemocratic legislation such as the Beneš Decrees.
On the other hand, the legislation, once thought to have been effectively dormant, has been put into effect by a 2015 Slovakian court decision, which would have authorized the confiscation of forestry plots belonging to a Slovakian citizen of Hungarian nationality on the basis of the Decrees. Although the European Court of Human Rights has condemned the Slovakian court’s decision, the confiscation is believed to be going ahead regardless. Encouraged by the above precedent, in 2020, the Slovakian Land Registry has also signaled its intention to confiscate lands belonging to owners of Hungarian nationality.
In short, while European institutions are busy working to compensate victims of colonial or more recent atrocities across the world, in their own backyard legal owners of property are being stripped of their lands based solely on their nationality, and on the basis of a set of decrees that could not stand the scrutiny of modern democratic standards. Although problems regarding the Beneš Decrees has been discussed in the European Parliament several times in recent years, no decisions against them have ever been issued.
Referring to the European Commission’s earlier statement, according to which the Decrees are a collection of historical documents, Loránt Vincze had pointed out that this is simply a false conclusion, since their legal consequences are still affecting nationalities branded as collectively guilty by the documents. According to him, “even if we are looking at it from a strictly legal point of view, we still have to conclude that they are unacceptable, since their foundation is an ethnic discrimination reminiscent of the darkest of times.”