Hungarian in Austria
Research Centre of Multilingualism
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Hungarian in Austria

1. General Information on the language group

1.1 Linguistic, geographic and economic description:

Hungarian belongs to the Finno-Hungarian linguistic family. The Hungarian minority is particularly evident in the Burgenland communes, in the west of Austria close to the frontier with Hungary. It is particularly concentrated in four language islands: Oberpullendorf/Felsõpulya, Oberwart/Felsõõr, Siget in der Wart/irisziget and Unterwart/Alsõõr. According to a report by the Burgenland Society for Research which has undertaken a study of the linguistic communities and on language ability on behalf of the regional government of Burgenland, Hungarian is actively mastered by 14,000 people and passively by 2,500 people (that is, by about 6% of the population of Burgenland). Since 1990 about 2,000 people have immigrated to Burgenland from Hungary.

Hungarian in Burgenland is distinguished from the standard variety by regionalisms and by the phenomenon of linguistic change associated with linguistic isolation. All the Hungarians in Burgenland are bilingual in Hungarian and German.

The regional exodus and the ageing population characterises the present situation of the Hungarians in Burgenland. Two thirds of Hungarians in Burgenland (in comparison with 40% of the Germanophones of Burgenland) are of retirement age. The proportion of employed Hungarians in Burgenland in the self-employed professional sector or employed as skilled workers is less than 50% of the rate for the Germanophones in the region.

The emergence to power of the Communist Party in Budapest after the Second World War led to a freezing of commercial relations and Burgenland has occupied a marginal economic position. Thus many Hungarians took the decision to relocate to the industrial zones of Vienna and Graz. Consequently the social structures of the Hungarian villages in Burgenland are broken up and the population has experienced a rapid decline.Until the present day the Hungarians of Burgenland have failed to contain the exodus to the urban centres. This tendency will persist at least in the near future. According to the estimates of the Austrian central office of Statistics, Burgenland has the greatest deficit of ageing population. One of the principle reasons is the disastrous labour market situation.For close to fifteen years Burgenland has been at the head of the list of unemployed and had the lowest average income. It should be noted that two thirds of the Hungarians of Burgenland have already left the labour market.

1.2 General History of the Region and of the language

After the battle of Lechfeld in 955 which signified the end of the Hungarian expansion associated with the reign of Otto the Great, they stabilised in the Carpate basin. In the eleventh century trade frontiers were established and the Hungarians of Burgenland descend from the population stabilised at this time. Burgenland place names contain the elements 'Schutzen' or 'Wart' ( as in Obserschutzen, Unterwart etc.) constituting the linguistic testimony of that historic period. Following the Ottoman wars, the devastated country was occupied by Protestant Germans fleeing the religious wars and by Croats fleeing their side of the Turkish oppression. The Hungarians pertain to three religions: Catholic, Evangelic and reformed. The Hungarians of Burgenland during the historic process abandoned contact with their people of origin and have lived for 450 years as have the Croats of Burgenland in linguistic islands.

Since 1921, the annexation of Western German Hungary to Austria as 'Burgenland' modified the status of the Hungarians of Burgenland. Hitherto, despite the situation of linguistic isolation from the Hungarian part of the Empire, they pertained to the majority population, but after the annexation to Austria they once again became de jure and de facto a minority amongst others, with the Croats, the Jews, the Sinti and the Roms. The integration of western Hungary into Austria cut off the economic centres of 'Õdenburg/Sopron, Steinamanger/Szombathely, Eisenburg/Vas, Wieselburg/Moson, placing the Hungarians of Burgenland in a new economic, political and educational situation. Whereas prior to the First World War the politics of the region was orientated to the east, that is towards the economic centres, a profound rupture occurred in 1921. Many Hungarians emigrated, above all those of the middle classes. Isolation in relation to the fatherland increased. The Hungarian refugees (after 1956 and recently) did not necessarily contribute to reinforcing the minority, since the different life styles of the immigrants and the Hungarians of Burgenland presented insurmountable difficulties. The 'iron curtain' limited all contact with Hungary.

After 1989 the opening of the 'iron curtain', and above all the improving perspective of transfrontier economic relations increased the prestige of Hungarian and improved the chances of survival of the Hungarian minority of Burgenland.

1.3 Official legal political status

Article 7 of the Austrian treaty of 1955, concerning the protection of minorities, does not apply to the Hungarian minority of Burgenland. There are no longer any legislative actions in virtue of which the Hungarian language would exist in governmental administration. The Ethnic Group Law of 1976 subordinates the promotion of ethnic groups to their demographic status which is paradoxical, in that the strongest groups (in a particular region or locality) are most likely to profit. The Hungarians and Croats of Burgenland, with the Slovenes of Carinthia seek a revision of that Law since it does not afford any benefit to the ethnic groups. The Hungarians of Burgenland are represented on the Consultative Committee of Ethnic Groups where they have a seat and a voting right.

2. Presence and use of the language in various fields

2.1 Education

Until 1921 it was the right of Hungarian education that prevailed in German western Hungary/Burgenland, Hungarian was obligatory. After 1921 Hungarian was only taught in the Hungarian villages of Burgenland. Between the two world wars there were ten confessional Hungarian schools. With the educational reform after 1945 Hungarian lost its prestige (sic) advantage following the creation of the iron curtain. It was only in 1989 that a change was marked when the demand for Hungarian increased and the desire to take advantage of Hungarian courses was not always satisfied, because of a lack of teachers, professional training having been ignored for many decades.

Pre school education: the present situation in the education domain: There are three kindergartens with three contexts, where one uses Hungarian as well as German as one of the teaching languages in Oberpullendorf/Felsõpulya, Unterwart/Alsõõr, Siget in der Wart/irisziget. In the kindergartens one uses Hungarian for at least six hours a week./ Between 120 and 130 children attend these schools. Teacher training is through the Federal Agency for kindergarten training in Oberwart//Felsõõr, where Hungarian is offered as a subject.

Primary schools: In Burgenland, there is no primary school where Hungarian is the language of instruction, and only two bilingual schools with 10 to 12 teachers and a total of 300 pupils who are taught Hungarian for three hours a week. These are in Unterwart/Alsõõr and Siget in der Wart/irisziget. There are some other schools where Hungarian is offered as a subject. In the twenty schools where 300 pupils are taught only 27 pupils have Hungarian as a mother tongue.

Secondary education: In the intermediate schools in Oberwart//Felsõõr and Oberpullendorf/Felsõpulya Hungarian is offered as an optional subject. Since 1987/88 it is offered in the high school at Oberwart//Felsõõr as an obligatory subject to the baculariate level. In the high schools at Oberwart//Felsõõr and Oberschützen/Felsõlõvõ, and since 1991/92 in the Commercial Academy in Oberwart//Felsõõr Hungarian is an obligatory subject. In 1992/93 a new bilingual high school was opened in Oberwart//Felsõõr with Croat-German and Hungarian- German classes. The school is attended both by members of ethnic groups and by Germanophones (in 1992 there were 21 pupils in the Hungarian-German class). In total, the number of pupils at the secondary level is between 500 and 550 with 30 teachers.

Professional Training: The number taking Hungarian is between 15 and 20 and there is one teacher.

Teacher training: There is currently no possibility of bilingual Hungarian-German teacher training in the teacher colleges in Burgenland (for those entering primary and secondary level teaching). Those interested can obtain a diploma in Hungarian language teaching at Steinamanager/Szombathely.

In the Universities it is possible to pursue studies leading to a diploma in general studies, a teaching diploma or a diploma in translation.

Permanent education: A number of Hungarian as a foreign language courses are offered and the demand for these is high among the Austrians.

2.2 Juridical Authorities/2.3 Authorities and Public Services

The use of Hungarian is not permitted in administration and public services.

2.4 Mass Media and Information technology

The Press:

Õrség: An information bulletin published by the Burgenland Cultural Alliance (Burgenlõndisch-Ungarischen Kulturverein/ Burgenlandi Magyar Kultéregyesület) appears monthly.

Bécsi napló/Wiener Tagebuch : A Viennese journal appears bi-monthly and is published by the Central Committee of Hungarian Associations (Zentralverband ungarischer Vereine/Ausztriai Magyar Egyesületek és Szervezetek Kõzponti Szõvetsége). Õrvideki hirek : An information sheet (1,000 copies) is sent at regular interval to members of the ethnic group.


Every Sunday the regional radio of the Austrian Radio and Television service ORF with its studio in Burgenland broadcasts 25 minutes. Radio programme reception from Hungary is also possible without problem but as the subject matter pertains to Hungary they are of little interest to Austrians. It is estimated that there is an audience of 60-80% of the Hungarians in Burgenland.


Only four time annually is there a broadcast of 25 minutes concerning folkloric and local subjects for the Hungarians in Burgenland. The Burgenland studio of ORF does not have a team of Hungarian producers. Terrestrial Television reception from Hungary is possible without problem by 60% of the Hungarians.

Electronic equipment and software:

This is available for Windows95, Windows NT and MacOS and are sold in Burgenland.

2.5 Cultural production and industry

Between the two World Wars there were several religious communities which promoted Hungarian cultural activities in Burgenland. There were several theatre groups, choirs and orchestras. Some Hungarian libraries were also open to the public. During the Second World War Hungarian culture was suppressed. The creation of the Hungarian Cultural Alliance of Burgenland (Burgenlõndisch-Ungarische Kulturverein/Burgenlandi Magyar Kultéregyesület) in 1968 marked a renewal of cultural activities and a return to traditions. Among the cultural groups who are members of this alliance are the following: the folk dance group Schlagzithergruppe Ó Unterwart/Alsõõr, the female dance group and amateur theatre company from Oberpullendorf/Felsõpulya. Among the religious organisations the following cultural groups are also active: the folk dance groups and theatre company from Oberwart/Felsõõr, the women's choir from Unterwart/Alsõõr, the mixed choir from Siget in der Wart/irisziget. There are also independent cultural groups such as the male voice choir (Mõnnergesangsverein) and a theatre company from Unterwart/Alsõõr.

In Unterwart/Alsõõr, there is a musicological association with a library of about 20,000 volumes. In general there is no Hungarian book publication of importance in Burgenland.

Associations: The Hungarian Cultural Alliance of Burgenland was founded in 1968 (Burgenlõndisch-Ungarische Kulturverein/Burgenlandi Magyar Kultéregyesület), and is constituted as the umbrella organisation of Hungarian Associations in Burgenland.

The umbrella organism of Austrian Hungarian Associations (Ungarischen Vereine in Õsterreich/Ausztriai Független Magyar Kultéregyesületek Csécsszervezete), was founded in 1983 and has its centre in Vienna. It defends the interests of Hungarian Association outside of Burgenland.

The Central Union of Hungarian Associations and Organisation in Austria (Zentralverband Ungarischer Vereine und Organisationen in Õsterreich/Ausztriai Magyar Egyesületek és Szervezetek Kõzponti Szõvetsége), was founded in 1980 and has its centre in Vienna, defending the interest of Hungarian refugees who have been in Austria since 1945.

2.6 Economic life

The Hungarians of Burgenland have no economic infrastructure or organism of their own.

The Hungarian language begins to play a role in transfrontier economic links with Hungary (particularly in tourism, commerce and services). Outside of family enterprises the Hungarian language does not have any importance as a language of communication. For those seeking employment and for self-employed workers, a knowledge of Hungarian can be a help.

2.7 Social and Family Use of the Language

Endogamy is not common except when it is motivated by economic reasons (as in the case of farmers). The language use is concentrated among the older generation, but the opening of frontiers with Hungary has regenerated interest in the language. A small kernel of language and cultural activists seek to maintain the language and the cultural traditions within the family and in the agencies and bars.

Most of the Hungarians of Burgenland are Catholics, a small group is evangelic (Augsbourgean) and others of the reformed church (Swiss). In each of these three sects, masses are chanted in Hungarian.

A crucial problem for the Hungarians of Burgenland is the ageing of the population, a problem that is more marked among this minority than among other Burgenland minorities. In many associations, and also in the schools, change is not evident. With the opening of the frontier with Hungary, geographic mobility from Hungary to Burgenland has increased and contributes to increasing contact with the motherland.

Hungarian does not evoque pejorative connotations and there are no differences in language practices between men and women.

2.8 Transfrontier exchanges

Many Burgenland Hungarians concerned about their identity have limited their cultural links with Hungary during the communist period, but since 1989 the possibilities of transfrontier exchange have been exploited. Among these exchanges are linguistic vacations in Hungary for the children of Burgenland which are very popular. On the other side of the frontier interest in exchanges with the Burgenland minority increases.

Economic relations will intensify and will influence interest in the Hungarian language within the region.

3. Conclusion

The Hungarian ethnic group in Burgenland is a threatened group. In contrast to the Croats the education system cannot to stabilise things, mainly because of the absence of competent Hungarian language teachers. There are also enormous gaps in the legal situation and also in the presence of Hungarian in Burgenland within the electronic media, at least in comparison with Croat.

In comparison with Croat hope rests on the increasing importance of Hungarian as a language of economic transaction in the frontier region. A concept which could ameliorate the situation is that of Euregion, which transcends state boundaries. In general the opening of frontiers and the development of new cultural and economic relations with Hungary can contribute to arresting the decline. One could envisage in the future that the development of Croat and Hungarian ethnic groups depends upon the relationship between Austria and the EU. Following an examination of the two crucial sectors of education and economy, one can envisage a strong cooperation between them, which would surely benefit the Hungarian autochthonous minority of Austria.