Ukrainian and Hungarian Foreign Ministers, Dmytro Kuleba and Peter Szijjarto will meet on February 3rd to normalize the situation in the Transcarpathian region.
Kuebla and Szijjiarto will discuss the minority and education rights of 150,000 ethnic Hungarians residing in the Ukrainian Zakarpattia oblast. The region formally belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire until its collapse following the end of World War I. The area on the Ukrainian-Hungarian border inherited Hungarian primary and secondary schools, where Hungarian remains the dominant language of instruction. As a result, the Jamestown Foundation reports that Transcarpathian students perform the lowest on Ukrainian state examinations.
Szijjarto said Ukrainian “patriots” allegedly threatened Hungarian diplomats aiming to prevent the upcoming diplomatic discussions in Kyiv. Kuebla stated that Ukrainian police are investigating the incident but alleged that foreign actors are responsible for threats against the Hungarian delegation.
The relationship between Kyiv and Budapest originally soured in 2017 when President Petro Poroshenko’s administration introduced the controversial language law prohibiting school instruction in minority languages such as Russian, Hungarian, Belarusian, and Polish. Although the law was targeted at the widely-used Russian language, Budapest responded by blocking Ukrainian aspirations to join the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Hungarian officials also extended Hungarian passports to Zakarpattia region, violating the Ukrainian prohibition of dual citizenship. Shortly after, alleged Ukrainian nationalists vandalized the Hungarian Culture Center. Without any proof, Poroshenko claimed Russian involvement in the incident.
In 2020, the Siurte United Territorial Community played the Hungarian national anthem during elections for the Ukrainian local government. The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) launched an investigation under suspicion of Hungarian agitation for the Party of Hungarians in the Ukrainian election. On November 30th, SBU raided the Hungarian Cultural Association in Transcarpathia and other foundations investigating foreign sponsorship and potential damage to Ukrainian territorial sovereignty.
Szijjarto criticized Ukrainian raids, undermining Kyiv’s intentions to join NATO. Hungarian diplomats also requested the immediate presence of the Ukrainian ambassador. On December 12th, Hungary requested expansion of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine to Zakarpatiia.
Hungarian officials assure that Hungary will not disturb the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine or stain its relations with NATO. They demand a provision for the national minority law under the advisory of the Council of Europe. Additionally, they seek to invest 56.5 million dollars into Transcarpathian infrastructure. In turn, Ukraine reinstates that it will not push assimilation onto ethnic Hungarians but seeks to supplement Hungarian education with the Ukrainian language necessary for college and career development.
However, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban contradicts the official state position. In 2014, Orban called for Transcarpathian autonomy while pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk compromised the Ukrainian national sovereignty. Orban opposes EU sanctions against Russia, supporting purchases of Russian gas, oil, and supply of controversial Sputnik V vaccine. He stated that Hungary will join the Russian TurkStream gas pipeline. Russia also assists Orban’s government in developing a nuclear power plant.
Additionally, Hungarian passport distribution to Ukrainian citizens resembles Russia’s “passportization” policy, a term coined by Toru Nagashima. In the early 2000s, Russia administered passports to residents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. As a result, Russians were able to claim that they were defending Russian citizens and intervene in Georgian affairs. A similar “passportization” strategy encompasses residents of Transnistria, Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk.
Unlike Russia, Hungary does not occupy Ukrainian territory and operates by EU and NATO principles. However, “passportization” could lead to separatism or influence local governance. With the most recent language law requiring all services to be provided in Ukrainian unless otherwise asked, the law was scrutinized by Russian media outlets for “discrimination” against minority languages. Similar disinformation could reach ethnic Hungarians in Transcarpathia. Most importantly, it can lead to brain drain. Ukraine ranks 129 out of 137 countries in its ability to keep talented citizens from leaving the country.
Kuleba noted that both sides must rid themselves of suspicions to achieve a successful discussion next Wednesday. Ukrainian FM said at a press conference, “There is no reason to believe that Ukrainian Hungarians are prone to separatism, just as there is no reason to believe that the Ukrainian state wants to cause any harm to the Ukrainian Hungarians of Zakarpattia.”
Image Source: UNIAN