It’s game day in Dunajska Streda – population 25,000 – a small, ethnic Hungarian city tucked away in southern Slovakia.
The city’s football club, DAC, are facing off against rivals Slovan Bratislava, and the fans make it crystal clear where their nationalistic allegiances lie.
“Ria, ria, Hungaria! Ria, ria, Hungária!”
This small Hungarian enclave is where football meets nationalism meets politics, whether European football’s governing body UEFA likes it or not.
You may not find Dunajska Streda (Dunaszerdahely in Hungarian) in most travel guides, but its football team has certainly put the city on the map.
DAC pulls in far more fans to home games than any other club in Slovakia and as a result there’s an atmosphere inside the MOL Arena that could rival some of the world’s most boisterous fans.
The first thing you notice as fans stream into the MOL Arena are the Hungarian symbols on people’s shirts and on some stylized DAC jerseys. There is very little that shows this is Slovakia even though the city is about 25 per cent Slovakian-speaking.
Hungarian locals say the Slovakian population keeps to themselves, and none are willing to speak with DW.
Just a short walk from the MOL Arena, Boglárka Bödik is more accomodating. She’s been a diehard DAC fan for the past 45 years and runs the Turul Bár with her husband, a local hangout for the club’s fans from Slovakia and abroad.
“The team shows that Hungarians are here – or rather it’s a symbol for them and has been for quite a while,” she tells DW.
Nowhere is that more noticeable than at the new MOL Arena, which was partly financed by Hungary’s largest multinational company, the Mol Group.
The club has also received significant support directly from the Hungarian government.
Investment to match ambitions
The Hungarian government financed its construction through a government foundation.
“I’m an ambitious person and I said when I took over DAC that I didn’t want a club that is fighting relegation. I want one that has lofty goals – goals to reach in the league and on the international stage,” he told DW.
“We want to form the kind of club which has the necessary infrastructure also. And we can now see the stadium, the academy, the infrastructure, and what’s most important is that we’re also becoming more knowledgeable.”
Just prior to kick-off against rivals Slovan Bratislava, the 9,300 Hungarian-minority fans sing a song called Nélküled,which means “Without You”.
The lyrics allude to the fate of Hungarians cut off from the mother country, after the country lost two-thirds of its territory to successor states following World War I. There are almost half-a-million people belonging to the Hungarian minority in Slovakia.
After kick-off, they also sing the Hungarian national anthem – not the Slovakian.
On the other side of the MOL Arena, many of the 200 Slovan Bratislava fans are wearing shirts saying “Slovakia for Slovakians”. They whistle and jeer at the Hungarian national anthem, but are quickly drowned out.
“We don’t like them. And they definitely don’t like us, I would say,” explains Bödik.
DAC supporters during the 1-1 draw against rivals Slovan Bratislava.
The game is tight with the final score finishing 1-1. DAC are denied a last-minute penalty, with the referee taking four minutes to finally make his decision with the help of VAR.
DAC players know they are experiencing an unusual situation: representing a club from a national minority. French-Congolese winger Yhoan Andzouana joined two years ago and came prepared.
“I played in Catalonia in Spain, so it’s similar – Catalonians don’t consider themselves Spanish. It’s the same thing here.”
A team like DAC inadvertently mixes sports with politics and nationalism, even if that’s not its intention. And their situation is not unique.
Similar ethnic Hungarian teams in Romania and Serbia also get financial support, either directly or indirectly from the Hungarian government, which helps fund their youth teams and other projects.
For these clubs the Hungarian government is a life-saver. However, the Romanian government recently protested to the Hungarian government that ethnically-based financial support in its country is discriminatory and goes against European Union law.
It’s estimated that Hungary has spent tens of millions of euros on these clubs, with some impressive results.
Part of DAC’s stadium was funded by a Hungarian multinational.
The Hungarian minority in Romania also has a team in the first division (Sepsi OSK) and in the second division (AFK Csikszereda), while in Serbia there’s the top-flight team Bačka Topolya. The Mol Group told DW they have financially supported all three teams, along with DAC.
Meanwhile, NK Osijek in Croatia is financed by Hungarian entrepreneur Lörinc Mészáros, a close colleague of Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán.
Minorities in the spotlight
Back at the game, Boglárka Bödik is happy that most fans can finally return following the coronavirus pandemic. Though some restrictions still apply.
“I felt great. It was an uplifting experience to be back in the stadium with that many people,” she says.
For a minority population, it’s a significant feeling.
So for DAC in Dunajska Streda, comes somewhat of a responsibility. On the field, it’s a small team with big goals. But they may also have an impact off the field, forcing Europe to look at national minorities – an almost taboo subject – through the eyes of the beautiful game.