Separatism in Transcarpathia: From Kremlin's hand to hand of Budapest

Author : Mykyta Sinitsyn

Source :

Of course, the similarity between the situations in Transcarpathia and Donbas does not mean that Hungary is implementing a force option, but this could give additional problems to Ukraine
23:15, 19 October 2017

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In the evening of October 11, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said that the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had notified Ukrainian embassy about holding a rally under the slogan "Self-determination for Transcarpathia" on October 13. About this Klimkin wrote in his Twitter. "Does it mean that Budapest is supporting separatism?" he noted.

According to Klimkin, Ukraine sent a note of protest to the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a demand to ban this provocation. The minister had a reason to talk about separatism, because how else can you qualify the phrase about self-determination of the whole region?

The problem of separatism literally flooded the information space of Ukraine in recent years, but if earlier we talked about the separatism of Crimean Tatars, now talk about separatism of Donbas, the situation in Transcarpathia fell out of discourse, although its danger due to the region's specificity is no less than the danger of Donbas. Transcarpathian and Donbas separatism are similar, and the first even has deeper roots.

The territory of the modern Transcarpathian region for several centuries was part of Hungary, which at first was an independent state, and then became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Naturally, such a long period could not go unnoticed, having formed numerous historical, cultural and ethnic ties.

So, according to the last census of 2001, every eighth inhabitant of Transcarpathia, that is 150 thousand people, is a Hungarian. Thus, the second largest national group in the region after Ukrainians is formed.

The proximity to Hungary, the proximity to other European countries, the possibility to leave, as well as the prolonged stay of a large part of the population in labor migration abroad, the loss of communication with Ukraine and its non-acceptance as a homeland, create the same breeding ground for the separatism as in Donbas. And where there are conditions for separatism, it simply cannot fail to arise.

However, much more famous in Ukraine is the so-called Ruthenian separatism, named after a small ethnic group residing in Transcarpathia: in the same year 2001, about 10 thousand inhabitants of the region called themselves Ruthenians. However, in spite of such a small number, they were noticeable primarily because they openly opposed themselves to other nationalities, which again made them relatives with the inhabitants of Donbas, who often felt themselves first of all Donbas people, and then all the rest. But the main thing is that Ruthenians from the 90s claimed to create their own national territorial association.

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With such a program was created Podkarpatska Rus organization, named in honor of the autonomous region of Czechoslovakia, which included part of Transcarpathia in the 1920s and 1930s. In March 1939, it even proclaimed an independent state with the same name or "Carpathian Ukraine", the existence of which, however, Hungary ended a few days later, by introducing its troops.

Pyotr Getsko is one of the organizers and coordinators of the Ruthenian Movement, the chairman of the Association of Ruthens in Russia and the Council of the International Center for the Protection of the Honor and Dignity of the Ruthenians. He resides in Russia.

Getsko's case received "second breath" after the beginning of the so-called Russian spring in Donbas. Through the Internet, especially using the group in Russian social network Vkontakte, supporters of Podkarpatska Rus demonstrated their support to the self-proclaimed people's republics, reported on Ruthenian volunteer who allegedly fight in Donbass "for a common purpose", draw analogies with Catalonia and generally demonstrate spiritual closeness.

However, it is difficult to suspect Getsko in planning particular danger for the territorial integrity of Transcarpathia, primarily because he is far away. As practice shows, separatism without external support, although it may become a headache for the state, is unlikely to develop into a phenomenon that can divide the country.

This point of view is fully confirmed by the situation in Donbas: because of the "common" border with Russia, the self-proclaimed republics DNP / LNR have the opportunity to receive from the latter not only "humanitarian aid" but also weapons and people who from time to time fall into the hands of the armed forces of Ukraine, thereby confirming Russia's participation in the armed conflict and its assistance to the separatists.

Transcarpathia has a common border with Hungary, and this is the country which Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine has suspected of supporting separatism, and this makes the situation very piquant, especially since in 2014 some political parties of the neighbor have already "distinguished themselves" by unequivocal demands in relation to Ukrainian Transcarpathia.

Particularly in this sense we noted the far-right nationalist party For Better Hungary, known as Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom, one of the points of its program declaring the accession or "return" of Transcarpathia to Hungary.
But, according to media reports, the party not only declares this, but also makes steps to implement its plan. So, since December 2010 in the city of Berehovo the office of the European deputy from the Jobbik party Bela Kovacs continued to function. On its basis the branch "Jobbik Kárpátalja" was created, which acted as the organizer of events in this part of Ukraine.

The work of the centers was accompanied by the activities of a charity fund. The Foundation declared aid "in the cultural, educational, social and economic life of the Hungarians of Ukraine" and "assisted in the preparation of documents for dual citizenship." In this case, according to the Transcarpathian Prosecutor's Office, the fund in every possible way concealed information about its financial activities in Ukraine, including expenses for activities of the extreme right wing. In practice, this meant a banal spread of Hungarian separatism.

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In March 2014, under the pressure of Ukrainian authorities, Bela Kovacs was forced to close such centers, and in May of the same year the Hungarian Prosecutor General's Office announced Kovacs suspected of spying for Russia. The European Parliament removed immunity from the deputy on October 14, 2015.

However, according to the media, the Kremlin was involved in this case: the party allegedly has strong ties with the Russian Federation, recognized the referendum in Crimea in March 2014, during which the already mentioned deputy Bela Kovacs was an observer.

Such information, as well as the fact that the opinion of one party is not the official point of view of Hungary itself, could not settle us down, because one of the risks of the official Budapest support for Transcarpathian separatism may be a "civil issue".

How many ethnic Hungarians with two passports - Ukrainian and Hungarian - are in Transcarpathia today - there is not known for certain. As early as February 2017, the Hungarian state secretary responsible for national policy in the Hungarian government Arpad Janos Potapi reported that Hungary granted its citizenship to 670,000 people and 14% of them are from Transcarpathia. A simple arithmetic calculation shows that we are talking about about 94 thousand inhabitants of Transcarpathia. How many residents of Transcarpathia received two passports at once, especially in the past 2.5 years, nobody can say. There is no official information from the Hungarian embassy on this matter.

True, according to domestic legislation, dual citizenship is illegal, that is, Transcarpathian citizens continue to be citizens of Ukraine, but how will Hungary behave if such "double citizens" turn to it for help because of infringed rights, for example, in the sphere of education?

Of course, the similarity between the situations in Transcarpathia and Donbas does not mean that Hungary is implementing a force option, such as the annexation of Transcarpathia. Such ways are absolutely unacceptable for the members of the European Union.

As an example, one can recall Turkey's longstanding attempts to become a member of the European Union, which are crumbling due to the support of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Such an illustrative example is likely to deter Hungary from taking force steps, but the transition to support of Transcarpathian separatism from the level of individual nationalist parties with dubious ties to the Russian Federation to more or less official, albeit secret, support, as well as the heating of separatist sentiments in Transcarpathia, unequivocally add problems for Ukraine. In the future, this can generally lead to a detachment of the region, if, of course, our country will allow it to happen.

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