Identity Crisis

The village of Kadarkút sits amid a swath of southwestern Hungary that is home to most of the nation’s ethnic Croatians. These areas include Zala, Baranya and Somogy (where Kadarkút is located) counties.

Due to the carving up of the Kingdom of Hungary in the post-World War I peace settlement most of the focus in both Hungary and Eastern Europe is on the three million plus Hungarians who live in Romania, Slovakia and Serbia. There is little mention about ethnic minorities from neighboring countries living in Hungary today.

In some ways this is understandable. After all, there are only 25,000 Croatians presently living in Hungary. Ethnic Croatians are so well integrated into Hungarian society that they are hardly visible. One of the few notable signs of the Croatian presence in Hungary is the surname Horváth.

Though it is Croatian in origin, the overriding majority of people who have this surname are actually Hungarian citizens who speak Hungarian. Somewhere in their near or more likely distant past a Croatian ancestor found their way to Hungary.

Hungary’s warm relations with Croatia are in stark contrast to more contentious feelings with neighboring countries that are home to hundreds of thousands of Hungarians. This is likely due to the fact that Hungary’s relationship with Croatians was very different from other ethnic groups such as the Romanians in Transylvania.

Despite suffering under Magyarization policies that so alienated other non-Magyar nationalities, the Croatians were allowed personal autonomy in 1868. Of course, after World War I everything changed and Croatia became part of Yugoslavia.

What is often overlooked is that the nationalities still remaining in what became the Republic of Hungary were almost completely turned into Hungarians (while of course Hungarians outside of the republic still see themselves as Hungarians).

This did not just affect Croatians, but other ethnic minorities as well. Consider that one of the most common surnames in Hungary, Tóth, is of Slovak origin. Many of these people descended from Slovaks who became Magyarized.

Ethnic identity politics in Eastern Europe are enough to make anyone’s head spin. As you get closer to the Hungarian-Croatian border in Somogy County do not be surprised to see a few bilingual signs.

Contrary to popular belief there are exceptions to the rule that these people cannot live together. After all they did just that for hundreds of years before the rise of nationalism and self-determination. As for Kadarkút, the first part of that name may ring a bell. Kádár is a common surname in Hungary today.

Its most notable namesake was the Hungarian “Goulash Communism” leader János Kádár who led the country from 1956 -1988. Kadarkút is not named for him, but nonetheless his earliest roots are in Croatia. He was born in what is today Rijeka, Croatia, the illegitimate son of a father with a German surname and a mother with a Slovak one.

His foster father’s brother had the surname Kádár (no I’m not making this up). János looked up to him and took his surname as well. This man, made up of a melting pot of ethnicities, would become the most powerful man in Hungary for over three decades.

We do not know if he ever visited Kadarkút, but we do know that Kadar said that he grew up thinking and speaking in Hungarian.If you visit the serene, wooded landscape in and around Kadarkút, consider how even the simplest places, with relatively simple names, are still suffering from an identity crisis caused by a Kingdom that no longer exists.

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About the Author: Leuko

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