Hungary approved a law on Wednesday easing access to its citizenship for over two million ethnic Hungarians living elsewhere in central Europe, triggering legal retaliation by neighbouring Slovakia.
Parliament passed an amendment allowing ethnic Hungarians to apply for citizenship from 2011 without needing to stay in the country, if they have Hungarian ancestry and speak the language.
The legislation, which does not automatically give voting rights in Hungary, passed by an overwhelming majority. It received long applause in Hungary's parliament, elected last month in polls which the centre-right Fidesz party won.
Slovakia, which considers Hungary's measure a security threat, reacted by adopting an amended law on Wednesday which is designed to strip its citizens of their Slovak nationality if they take a second citizenship.
"Slovakia is a sovereign country and we cannot tolerate Fidesz's policy of a 'Great Hungary', we cannot tolerate ignorance of rules of the international law," Prime Minister Robert Fico told reporters after the parliamentary vote.
Ethnic Hungarians live in several neighbouring countries including Slovakia, Serbia, Ukraine and Romania. Their ancestors lost their Hungarian citizenship under the Trianon peace treaty ending World War One.
The Slovak act, backed by coalition parties and the opposition Christian Democrats, will also ban people with foreign citizenship from working in certain public positions requiring Slovak citizenship, such as members of parliament.
Fico said the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had no objection to the amended Slovak code.
The law, which needs to be signed by the Slovak president, will come into force on July 17. Czech President Vaclav Klaus expressed solidarity with Slovakia on Wednesday, adding that he was also concerned by Hungary's actions.
Budapest and Bratislava have repeatedly sparred over Slovakia's treatment of its half-million-strong Hungarian community, most recently over a new language law which Hungary says hurts minority rights.
Hungary's citizenship bill is an old pledge of Fidesz, which will form the new government on Saturday, while in Slovakia it has become an issue in campaigning for elections on June 12.
"The Slovak reaction's toughness may not be proportionate to the Hungarian measure," said Peter Kreko, analyst at Political Capital in Budapest.
"The two states' relations will hinge on the composition of the next Slovak government... which might even need Hungarian parties as part of the coalition," he said.
Fico's leftist SMER is a favourite to form a new government after the June vote. At the moment the nationalist party SNS is also part of the Slovak coalition.
The new Hungarian rules won support on the streets of the capital. "I would give Hungarian citizenship to all Hungarians, as they are of our blood, they have also suffered for Trianon and they deserve to be accepted as Hungarian citizens," said 57-year-old Iren Menik in Budapest.
ReutersLast Mod: 27 Mayıs 2010, 00:59