Hungary backs its exiles

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BUDAPEST - Hungary's Prime Minister, Jozsef Antall, addressing the biggest international gathering of ethnic Hungarians in more than half a century, promised the motherland's support for kinfolk living abroad as minorities. 'It is the constitutional duty of the Hungarian government to take responsibility for Hungarians beyond the border,' Mr Antall told an enthusiastic crowd of some 4,000 as the third World Congress of Hungarians opened yesterday.

Brushing aside complaints from some neighbours that Budapest had been too vocal in supporting Hungarian minorities in other states, Mr Antall said to loud cheers: 'The minority problem is not a domestic problem.' Two years ago Mr Antall caused a storm in East Europe by proclaiming himself, upon his election, 'the prime minister of all Hungarians'.

Only two out of three ethnic Hungarians live in modern Hungary, which has a population of 10.3 million. As many as 3.5 million live in neighbouring countries. About 2 million Hungarians are estimated to live in Romania, 600,000 in Slovakia, 450,000 in Serbia's Vojvodina province, 160,000 in Ukraine, 70,000 in Austria and 15,000 each in Croatia and Slovenia.

Many Hungarians are still upset over the peace treaty that assigned large parts of Hungary to other states as the Austro- Hungarian empire disintegrated after the First World War. Since then, ethnic Hungarians in some countries have fought an uphill struggle for their language, schools, culture and self-determination.

'They would take us for liars if Hungarians said it did not still hurt,' Mr Antall said. But he added the lingering pain could not justify changing international borders by force. 'We cannot approach the question from the perspective of historical pain, but rather from the realities of today,' he said.

Nevertheless, the event has been criticised by opposition parties, which accuse the governing Hungarian Democratic Front of blowing the nationalist trumpet in an attempt to shore up public support. Mr Antall's party, seen by many Hungarians as too nationalistic, consistently scores less than 10 per cent in opinion polls.

Opponents of the conservative government have been angered by the announcement that the remains of Admiral Miklos Horthy, the dictator who ruled Hungary between 1920 and 1944, will be moved from a Portuguese cemetery to his native country. The announcement came after a meeting between Mr Antall and Horthy's daughter-in-law.

Horthy allied Hungary with Hitler during the Second World War before attempting to negotiate a separate peace accord with the Soviet Union in 1944, after which the Nazis forced him to resign. After the war he lived in exile in Portugal.

The Horthy family asked the Hungarian authorities last October for permission to repatriate the admiral's remains, buried in a British military cemetery in Lisbon, where he died in 1957. The family want to return Horthy's body to the family crypt in his native village of Kenderes, in east Hungary. The statement said Hungarian authorities did not object, considering the matter 'a purely family matter'.

The Association of Hungarian Sailors, founded in 1989, also began moves in early 1991 to repatriate the remains of the admiral, who is considered as 'the greatest Hungarian sailor, who had renewed river and maritime navigation in Hungary' after the First World War, according to Andras Davidhazi, an association official.