A word about Hungary-Ukraine language conflict

Author : Natalia Hryhorieva

Source : 112 Ukraine

Find out a story of Renata, who is of both Ukrainian and Hungarian origin, her considerations on Ukrainian language and Hungarian societal culture in Zakarpattia
23:16, 25 October 2018

Open source

The language conflict between Ukraine and Hungary, which erupted a year ago, namely in the autumn of 2017 after the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted a new law on education, according to which teaching after primary school will be only in Ukrainian, is periodically exacerbated, shifting to a non-linguistic milieu (issuing Hungarian passports to Ukrainian citizens in Berehove, Zakarpattia region, and the incident with billboards)or remains in a soft state. “Soft” means not that everything has somehow been settled, but rather that “to the top” do not give out any fresh details, although the work “behind the scenes” is undoubtedly being done. And, apparently, painstaking. The situation is really complicated. And she did not arise "out of nowhere" and "suddenly." This is not a secret that the Hungarians in the places of their compact residence have the passports of the neighboring state. But they are not particularly worried about this. We took care of this problem only now, when the reason for the repetition of the notorious scenarios reasonably arose. Political scientists say that Fidesz and Jobbik parties are thus trying to win over the Ukrainian Hungarians to their side. And both parties, by the way, with a pro-Russian subtext. At the same time, Zakarpattia region governor Gennady Moskal claims that there is no separatism in Zakarpattia, and all these antics and insinuations are aimed at embroiling Ukrainians and Hungarians.

Let us calmly, without strong emotions, look into this complicated issue. And as a guide, I offer my friend, who is of both Ukrainian and Hungarian origin.

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We always speak Ukrainian with Renata. And not only because I do not know Hungarian, but Renata speaks Ukrainian along with her native Hungarian.

I ask her to tell about her childhood, about what Hungary means to her.

“My childhood,” she begins, “was spent in the urban-type settlement of Tiszaújlak on the right bank of the Tisza River, which serves, so to speak, the natural border between Hungary and Ukraine. From the very beginning of its existence, this settlement (and the first mention of this town dates back to the beginning of the fourteenth century) was subjected to numerous transformations, experienced many revolutions and wars, several times, its territory was destroyed by floods. Now it is part of Ukraine. This is the Vynohradiv district of Zakarpattia region. Throughout its history, the territory of Tiszaújlak (like most of Zakarpattia territory) was part of different states: Austria-Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union. One thing remains unchanged to this day, a significant advantage of ethnic Hungarians over Ukrainians (according to the latest statistics, Hungarians make up 79% of the population of Tiszaújlak).

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Since we have a checkpoint in Tiszaújlak on the Hungarian-Ukrainian border, one can meet cars mostly with Hungarian numbers here. Many of us have relatives in Hungary, they visit us, and we visit them.

While being in Zakarpattia, I often had an uneven feeling: I could never feel true Hungarian, and at the same time, it was also very difficult to adapt to the Ukrainian environment.

Perhaps due to the fact that part of my family is more connected with the Ukrainian traditions (although everyone is also fluent in Hungarian), I still managed to find my place in the “Ukrainian” world. First, in Uzhgorod, while studying at a music school, I helped my Hungarian friends cope with their studies, translated something for them, and helped to find a common language with teachers. Although the Hungarian community is also quite numerous, we were obliged to study some subjects in Ukrainian. Apparently, it was during this period that my self-identification as Ukrainian, as a citizen of Ukraine, took place, and I felt final realization that my future life would be connected with this country. Therefore, in the future, I chose Kyiv, so I live, study, work here, and I speak the state language.

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Most Zakarpattia Hungarians (especially from purely Hungarian families, unlike me) prefer studying at Hungarian universities. Many then manage to get a job there and build their future. Those who are not ready to leave their home in Transcarpathia feel some discomfort, they realize themselves exclusively as the Hungarians and sometimes refuse to speak the state language, simply without seeing any practical need for it. They were brought up in Hungarian traditions, they were absorbing everything Hungarian from generation to generation, and it was a reminder that the land where they live was the historical territory of Hungary. They are persuaded that only because of cruel historical and political circumstances the border separates them from their homeland.

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Now Renata is preparing to defend her Ph.D. thesis. She tries to popularize the Hungarian culture in Ukraine, exploring the little-known in our country Hungarian composer Eötvös Péter. She writes her thesis in Ukrainian, relying on Hungarian sources and making translations.

Renata’s position of is completely in line with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister’s one: “Nobody wants assimilation, no one wants the Hungarians to be “less Hungarians.” They should remain Hungarians, but they should get additional chances, which knowledge of the Ukrainian language gives "


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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or 112.International and its owners.

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