The 20th Century

As a consequence of the aggravating agrarian crisis around 1890 in Hungary hundreds of thousands of people emigrated from the area of the former monarchy to the U.S. and to various European countries. Between 1899 and 1913 about 25000 people left Vas County. Most of them coming from the district Szentgotthárd (6000). In this very region the biggest emigration wave took place in 1901. From Alsószölnök approximately a hundred inhabitants emigrated to the U.S. The First World War interrupted emigration overseas, which gained a new upturn around 1920. Due to mass emigration, the American Congress decided to introduce an immigration quota in 1921. For Hungary this quota amounted to 5638 people. Thus also the destinations of those willing to emigrate changed. Canada, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil became the new destinations for the emigrants of Vas County. In 1869, about 4000 people were living in the Slovene villages within the Raba Region. Until 1910 the population figure decreased by 8 per cent. In 1910, the U.S. kept about 5000 Slovene-speaking immigrants, who had emigrated from the former Hungarian kingdom. The Slovene-speaking Hungarians settled mainly in the state of Pennsylvania and in Chicago and Bethlehem. In these two cities the newspapers “Szlobodne Rejcsi/Free Words” and “Amerikanski Szlovenczov glász/The Voice of the Slovenes in America” were published. The emigrants returning to the Raba Region from the U.S. purchased land, renovated their houses and kept distributing their American newspapers. In order to be able to afford a ticket for the crossing to the U.S., the emigrants had to work up to several months. Numerous emigrants left their homes without valid travel documents and immigrated to their countries of destination illegally or they made available passport with the aid of non-existing destinations. To earn the necessary funds more quickly, the wives followed their husbands, who had emigrated already some years before. However, since the reason for many men to emigrate were their wives themselves, from 1926 on they only received a passport when they could prove that they would take care of their wives who had been left at home. Around 1923/24 a great deal of the Slovenes who had emigrated returned to their homeland in the Raba Region. They did not stay abroad for a long time because they planned to establish a life on better terms.



The First World War

The Slovenes from the Raba Region participated as Hungarian soldiers in the First World War. Memorials in Apátistvánfalva, Alsószölnök and Rábatótfalu commemorate the numerous dead soldiers of this war. After the end of the First World War state power in the Slovene Raba Region changed six times within ten months. Until October 1918 this region belonged to Habsburg. From November 1918 until March 1919 it was part of the Republic Károly-Hungary. In early 1919 the Slovene Raba Region was even under Jurišič’s power for one week. Also the White Guardsmen usurped this area for a couple of days. From March 1919 until August 1919 it was part of the Hungarian Soviet Republic and in August 1919 it came under the control of the kingdom Serbia-Croatia-Slovenia and with the peace treaty of Trianon in June 4, 1920 the Slovene communes definitively remained a part of Hungary. The Károly government (1918-1919) promised the Slovenes in Zala County and Vas County cultural autonomy. However, mainly the Catholic Slovenes preferred belonging to their mother country Slovenia.



After “Trianon”

The borders between the kingdoms Hungary and Serbia-Croatia-Slovenia were finally regulated by the so-called peace treaty of Trianon, in Trianon castle not far from Paris on June 4, 1920. The water shed of the two rivers Raba and Mura was considered as the borderline within Vas County. The localities in the surroundings of Szentgotthárd remained further on Hungarian rule. Through fusions the nine communes of the Raba Region (Alsószölnök, Apátistvánfalva, Felsőszölnök, Orfalu, Permise, Rábatótfalu, Ritkaháza, Szakonyfalu and Újbalázsfalva) became six municipalities. Újbalázsfalva was associated to Apátistvánfalva, Rábatótfalu to Szentgotthárd, and Permise and Ritkaháza were united as Kétvölgy. This so-called “vendvidék” was consequently disunited: in the Mura Region (Prekmurje), which is a part of Slovenia and in the Raba Region (Porabje) belonging to Hungary. This separation introduced a new historical epoch for the Slovenes living in the Hungarian Raba Region. From this moment forth the Mura Region and the Raba Region developed separately and differently in terms of economy, politics, culture and ethnicity. At the border triangle near Felsőszölnök a pyramidal column bearing the emblems of Austria, Hungary and Yugoslavia and the date of the ratification of the peace treaty of Trianon was erected. Between the two world wars, at the end of May, the Slovene-speaking students held an annual memorial celebration commemorating the dead heroes of the First World War at this very stone column. After the drawing of the “Iron Curtain” after the Second World War this stone column was no longer accessible. Since June 4, 1989 the border is open again and from this date forth deputies of the three ethnic groups hold annual meetings at this stone column, which symbolises the history of this region.



The “Windish question

During the invasion of the German troops in Yugoslavia on April 6 1941 also Hungary, as an ally of Hitler-Germany, joined Germany. In return for this help, Hungary retrieved the Serbian Bácska, the Croatian Baranya and Medjimurje and the Slovene Mura Region. These regions were affiliated to Yugoslavia after the peace treaty of Trianon in 1920. One wanted to prove to the inhabitants of the Mura Region that they were not Slovenes but descended from the Celts. Sándor Mikola (1871-1945), a maths and physics teacher coming from the Slovene Mura Region claimed during the times of the peace of Trianon that the term “vend” did not mean “Slovene”. With his opus “A Vendség múltja és jelene/The past and present of the Wends” he propagated this perception. By means of the theory of Sándor Mikola Hungarian policy tried to regain the Slovene Mura Region at that time. However, also after the Second World War the Mura Region remained a part of Yugoslavia (Slovenia) and the Raba Region a part of Hungary.


The double identity

Between March 18 and March 23, 1946 all the ethnicities living on Hungarian national territory were registered. Since the Slovenes from the Raba Region were afraid of being migrated to Yugoslavia they avowed themselves Hungarians but with Slovene mother tongue in this registration. They decided in favor of the “double identity". The message, which was published in the newspaper “Szabad Nép/Free People”, saying that the Slovenes from the Raba Region had to avow themselves Slovenes to avoid being displaced had a big influence on their decision in favour of the double identity. What is more, this newspaper announced that if the Slovenes avowed themselves Hungarians they had to settle for complete assimilation into Hungarian culture. According to the newspaper “Szabad Vas megye/Free Vas County” the deputies from Hungary and Yugoslavia were also discussing the resettlement and substitution of the respective south-Slavic and Hungarian population within the two countries at the Parisian peace talks. Within three years approximately 40000 people were to change their residences. Luckily, this resettlement did not take place. During the resettlement policy of the inhabitants of German origin from Hungary 200 people in Felsoszölnök were on a list destined for resettlement. However, these people were deleted from the list due to their mixed marriages with Slovenes or because of their lack of knowledge of the German language. In Alsószölnök in 1941 325 people avowed being of German origin. The “Volksbund” (union of people of German origin) had 360 members among whom there were also numerous Slovenes. In Alsószölnök also existed a not to be neglected number of inhabitants of German origin. Some Slovenes joined the local German “Volksbund” during the Second World War, because the people union promised them an auspicious work in Germany. In 1946 the Hungarian government displaced 103 people from Alsószölnök.



Land partitioning, immigration and resettlement policy

In the villages of the Slovene Raba Region approximately two thirds of the farmed land still remained privat property also after 1945. From the 85 families who asserted their claims to land 29 were assigned land. The instructions for mandatory natural tolls and for food ration cards, which were decreed after the Second World War during the years 1946 and 1956, derogated also the Slovene peasants from the Raba Region. The peasants had to hand in a part of their harvest to the state. These terms were often absurd. In parts the debit of the natural tolls were that high that the harvest of some peasant families having many children did not suffice to satisfy their own needs, and that these families were obliged to (re)purchase the harvest in civil stores with food ration cards or money. What is more, the instructions were not always adjusted to the given agricultural orientation of the peasants. Even though the peasants were more often working as chicken breeders, the national toll ordinance dealing with fowl breeding instructed that also ducks and geese had to be delivered. In 1948 the relations between Hungary and Yugoslavia worsened. In August 1951 the council announced that Slovene-speaking peasants in the borderland of Yugoslavia could not give a more worthily answer to Tito's cooperation with the west than increasing the quota of the mandatory natural tolls. As a consequence of the bad economic circumstances approximately 28 per cent of the Slovene inhabitants left the Raba Region between 1949 and 1960. The Slovene peasant families, the so-called “kulák” (= richer peasants) were put in labour camps to Hortobágy in the Puszta. Also after 1953 many of these resettled peasant families were not allowed to return to their home villages but they could migrate to areas which were only about 60 to 80 km away. To some extent this is the reason why also Slovene-speaking families settled down in some parts of Vas County. The Slovene Raba Region was untroubled by acts of violence in the course of the Hungarian uprising in 1956. On October 23, 1956 when the uprising broke out in Budapest, 83 soldiers of the border patrol regiment of Alsószölnök left their frontier posts and sided with the revolutionaries. The border sections to Austria and Yugoslavia, which were provided with barbed wire, were dismantled by the Hungarian government already in summer 1956. One of the main destinations of many Hungarian refugees was the Austrian border near Alsószölnök leading to the neighbouring Austrian Neumarkt.



The “Iron Curtain”

The term “Iron Curtain” was mentioned by Winston Churchill during a speech in Fulton (USA) on May 5, 1946. He said that an “Iron Curtain” was hanging down on Europe from the Baltic Sea (Stettin) to the Adria (Trieste). This “Iron Curtain” sealed the Raba Region off Yugoslavia and Austria from the second half of the 1940s until the early 1990s. In the beginning the “Iron Curtain” consisted of wire obstacles, mine fields, foot print detection sectors, and on the Hungarian side there were guards. In terms of border control the government of Kádár affected the Slovene population in the Raba Region most. Additionally, special alarm installations were used to secure the border, and per instruction the peasants were forced to keep their land, the limit of which was the border, free for border security. If an inhabitant of the Raba Region had relatives or friends living in neighbouring Yugoslavia, then they were considered unreliable and they ran the risk of being migrated to Yugoslavia. In between the two world wars not much attention was drawn to the fate of the different ethnic groups in Hungary. The isolation due to the “Iron Curtain” caused a great loss in terms of the educational level and the migration of the Slovenes from the Raba Region. In the 1960s, a certain industrial development, which affected also the Raba Region, started because of the foundation of a blacksmith's store and a weaving mill in Szentgotthárd. The Slovene population group found work in the aforementioned enterprises. In the beginning, they commuted to work from their villages to Szentgotthárd daily, later on a lot of them settled down in the Hungarian-speaking city Szentgotthárd. The migration to Hungarian-speaking cities compromised the continuity of the Slovene identity within the Raba Region enormously. The then-socialist enonomic and social system allowed hardly any separate initiative in order to preserve Slovene peculiarity within the Raba Region. Only the constitutional amendment in 1972 amitted the Slovene minority and other minorities in Hungary, of at least a formal protection and use of their language. As from 1979 the radio of Győr broadcasted a programme in Slovene language 25 minutes per week, and in 1986 the museum of Szentgotthárd was named after Pável Ágoston, a linguist and ethnographer of Slovene origin. Pável Ágoston (1886-1946) dealt with the science of the Slovene language, amongst others with the development of the language within the Mura Region.



Political change and the Slovenes within the Raba Region

The peaceful change in Hungary in the 1990s resulted in a constitutional and pluralistic state, a state with parliamentary democracy, with a free market economy and a new social system. It enabled also the minorities to develop and to rediscover their cultural identity. In 1990, the Slovene association dealing with Szentgotthárd, which has been publishing the small newspaper “Porabje” in Slovene every two weeks since 1991, was founded in Felsőszölnök. In addition, Hungarian TV has been broadcasting a programme called “Slovenski utrinki/Slovene Mosaics” for the Slovene population group in Hungary for 25 minutes every two weeks since 1992. The rich tradition of the Hungarian Slovenes is being looked after by a culture group that is integrated in the association of the Hungarian Slovenes. The association of the Slovenes also adds a great deal to the preservation of the Slovene language within the Raba Region. In 1993, the Hungarian Parliament introduced a law for the minorities and ethnic groups living in Hungary, which acknowledges 13 different minorities on Hungarian soil. Due to the regulation about the autonomy of the ethnic minorities embodied in this very law, self-administrations, which acted for the interests of the Slovene population group, were created in the elections of 1994/95 within six of seven Slovene-speaking settlements. Furthermore, due to the election results of 1998, the Hungarian Slovenes could establish another three self-administrations in Szombathely, Mosonmagyaróvár and in Budapest. The headquarters of the self-administration of all the Slovenes living in Hungary are situated in Felsőszölnök. Such Slovene associations exist in Budapest and Szombathely as well. In Szentgotthárd, the Slovene culture and information centre and a consulate of the Republic Slovenia were inaugurated in 1998. Since June 23, 2000 a radio station in Szentgotthárd has been broadcasting daily programmes in Slovene language.



The relations to Slovenia

The bilateral agreements between the republics of Slovenia and Hungary and the laws, which had been introduced by Hungary in the last couple of decades, enable the promotion and preservation of the relations between Slovenes within the Raba Region and the mother country Slovenia. Particular significance inheres in the law dealing with the rights of ethnic minorities in Hungary, in the bilateral agreement between Hungary and Slovenia about the securing of the rights of the Slovene population group in Hungary and the Hungarian population group in Slovenia, in the cooperation treaties about education, culture and science. The resolution made by the Slovene parliament with the neighbouring states Austria, Italy, Croatia and Hungary, in which Slovenes live as ethnic groups, bears a great significance for the Slovenes within the Raba Region. This resolution grants the Slovenes from the Raba Region a lot of support, which can be political, cultural, linguistic, informal or scientific and financial. The Mura and Raba Region, which had been separated by the “Iron Curtain” for decades, can return to their common roots again. The opening of the border crossings Martinje-Felsőszölnök and Čepinci-Kétvölgy and the railroad connection Zalalövo-Hodoš accounted a great deal for this aim. In the last couple of years, the relations between the Slovene population groups in Italy, Austria and Hungary were intensified. Numerous culture and sport events enabled these Slovene population groups beyond the Slovene national borders to exchange views and to get to know each other better. One has found out that, apart from the different developments of this Slovene ethnic group, the basic questions about identity and continuity are very similar.

Translated from German into English: Joël Gerber

The German text is based on:       Mukics Mária, „A Magyarországi Szlovének“; Press Publica, (2003)