Transcarpathian syndrome of Hungarian ultranationalists

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Source :

The leadership of Hungary specifically aggravates the situation around the language issue in order to provoke anti-Ukrainian sentiments among Transcarpathian Hungarians, mislead the EU regarding Ukraine's compliance with the rights of the Hungarian minority and prepare the ground for promoting the idea of changing the status of Transcarpathia
19:17, 1 October 2017

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A few days ago a new law on education came into force in Ukraine. It provides for a complete transition of teaching in all educational institutions of the country to Ukrainian language. All representatives of national minorities would study different sciences in Ukrainian. Since September 1, 2018, children who go to Grade 1 will be able to study in their native language only the first four years in primary school. From the fifth grade, children of national minorities will study all subjects only in Ukrainian, and learn their native language as a separate discipline. If the language of a national minority belongs to the languages of the European Union, then one or more disciplines can be taught in it.

The law has made a lot of buzz. The authorities of Romania and Moldova expressed concern about the new law on education, and the Polish leadership wanted to consult with colleagues from Ukraine on its using in schools. The most unconstructive was the reaction of Hungary. In the Hungarian parliament, a resolution was adopted condemning this law, which, according to legislators, violates the rights of Hungarians in Transcarpathia. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Siyarto called the document "shameful" and promised that as a retaliatory measure his country would block any beneficial initiatives for Ukraine in the EU and other international organizations.

One gets the impression that the Hungarian leadership is specifically promoting the situation around the language issue in order to provoke anti-Ukrainian sentiments among the Hungarians of Transcarpathia, to mislead the EU regarding Ukraine's compliance with the rights of the Hungarian minority and to pave the way for promoting the idea of changing the status of Transcarpathia. Hungarian ultranationalists consider the Ukrainian Transcarpathia "their" land. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban from the party of moderate eurosceptics "Fidesz", which holds the majority of seats in the parliament, supports the idea of giving Transcarpathian Hungarians autonomy. A more radical position is held by the ultra-right party of the Hungarian Eurosceptics "Jobbik" (23 seats in the parliament), which supports the accession of Transcarpathia to Hungary.

Did Hungarian authorities forget the history?

Historical facts indicate that it is not possible to call the Transcarpathia originally Hungarian land. The territory of the modern Transcarpathian region was part of various states, and it was inhabited by different peoples. In Transcarpathia lived Huns, Celts, Avars, Slavs, including white Croats. Transcarpathia was in the center of the Hun Empire, which was founded by their leader Attila. In the 9th century, a Slavic state was established on the territory of the region, headed by Prince Labortz (875-892), who maintained contacts with other Slavic states of the Middle Ages - Great Moravia, Kievan Rus and was a vassal of the Bulgarian kingdom. Hungarians or Ugrians were a new nomadic people. They began to seize Transcarpathian lands from 896 AD headed by their leader Almosh. The Slavs resisted them. However, in addition to the Hungarians, their plans for Transcarpathia had  Mongol-Tatars, who in 1241-42, led by Khan Batu carried out a devastating campaign.

Finally, the Hungarian king Bela IV succeeded in establishing power over Transcarpathia in 1254. He inhabited with Hungarians the lowland regions of Transcarpathia with the most fertile soils. Also, the king invited German and Italian colonists, including specialists in growing grapes and producing wine, to the captured region. Transcarpathia was governed by the governors of the king from among the Hungarian nobles. The Slavs were subjected to the Magyarization or evicted to mountain areas. It was difficult for the Hungarians to live in the original Slavic region, or the "Russian mark", as they called Transcarpathia. In 1280, the Hungarian King Bela IV married his daughter Constantia for Prince Lev Danilovich, after which part of Transcarpathia, including the city of Mukacheve, became part of the Galicia-Volyn principality. In 1526 the large territory of the region became part of the Transylvanian principality, which was in vassal dependence on Istanbul. The Turks ruled over these territories for 160 years, until the whole territory of Hungary, Transylvania, including Transcarpathia, became part of the Empire of the Habsburgs (Austria) by the end of the 17th century.

Related: Hungarian Ambassador expects positive settlement of dispute on education law issue

Before accusing Kyiv of violating the language rights of Transcarpathian Hungarians, politicians from Budapest should remember the history of Transcarpathia during the period of being under the rule of the Hungarian Crown. Not having time to get out of the Turkish yoke, the Hungarian nobility continued to impose their own orders in Transcarpathia. Tycoons from the clan of Drugets and Batorys inculcated Catholicism in the region, and Orthodox priests did not have equality with Catholic clerics. In 1646, 63 Orthodox priests of the Mukacheve diocese concluded the Uzhhorod unia and formally submitted to the Pope under the pressure of the Hungarian nobility. There was no question of equal rights for the Slavic and Hungarian populations. Despite the oppression, the Hungarians were unable to oust the Slavs from Transcarpathia. According to the census of 1846, 468 838 people lived in Transcarpathia, of which Rusyns were 235 266, and Hungarians – 119 816. The rest of the population was represented by Romanians, Jews, Slovaks and Germans.

After the end of the First World War and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, Transcarpathia became part of the newly-formed state of Czechoslovakia, which was considered one of the most democratic countries of that time. The transfer of the region to the Czechs and Slovaks was a kind of penalty for the Hungarians, who during the First World War fought against the Entente, who won the war. Transcarpathia became known as Subcarpathian Rus, had its own governor, 9 deputies in the Czechoslovak parliament, and the Ukrainian national blue-and-yellow flag was used as the flag of the region. The Ruthenian language received official status. In 1938 Subcarpathian Rus received an autonomous status in the composition of Czechoslovakia and was renamed Carpathian Ukraine, whose Prime Minister was Augustine Voloshin. Among the local Hungarian Communists, the idea of joining the Soviet Union was popular.

Budapest still managed to reassume itself Transcarpathia, taking advantage of the changing geopolitical situation. After the annexation of Czechoslovakia in 1939 by Nazi Germany, the Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler gave the blessing of his regent of the Hungarian Kingdom Miklos Horthy to the occupation of the Carpathian Ukraine, which proclaimed independence (lasted from March 15 to 18, 1939). The Hungarian troops occupied Transcarpathia. Separate units of the Ukrainian militarized organization "Carpathian Sich" resisted the Hungarian military until 1940. The Hungarians repressed the supporters of the independence of the Carpathian Ukraine and again began to pursue a policy of strengthening the Hungarian influence in the region. From 1944 to 1991 Transcarpathia was under the rule of the USSR after the capture of the region by Soviet troops and inclusion in the Ukrainian SSR. Stalinist repression, dekulakization, collectivization touched all the ethnic groups of Transcarpathia.

Hungary does not appreciate the tolerance of Ukraine

Hungarian Eurosceptics underestimate the tolerant attitude of Ukrainians to various national minorities who live on the territory of our country. They exaggerate the situation, since more than 18 different national minorities live in Ukraine, and 18 languages have regional status. In the conditions of independent Ukraine in Transcarpathia people freely confesses both Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Nobody infringes on the Hungarian minority on the language issue. The Hungarian language in Transcarpathia has a special status on a par with Romanian and Ruthenian languages. The Hungarians are 12.1% of the population of this region. An absolute majority of 1.2 million Transcarpathian population are Ukrainians and Rusyns (80.5%). Romanians and Russians together constitute 5%. It is useless to accuse Ukraine of linguistic discrimination against Hungarians because the Hungarian language is already used by its speakers. The essence of the law on education is not to prohibit speaking Hungarian, but to teach the national minorities of Ukraine the state language and facilitate their integration into Ukrainian society.

Related: Hungarian language blackmail: Will Budapest bury European future of Ukraine?

A total of 156.6 thousand Hungarians live in Transcarpathia, mainly in the areas adjacent to the Ukrainian-Hungarian border. In these areas, communication and teaching are carried out in Hungarian, and the Ukrainian language is almost not used. After graduation, Hungarian youth leaves to continue to study in Hungary, with the prospect of staying and finding work there. The new law gives more opportunities to Transcarpathian Hungarians. Knowing the Ukrainian language, Hungarians will be able to receive education in Ukrainian universities, in case they couldn’t enter Hungarian university. Not to mention the possibility of considering various options for work, including in Ukraine.

Mandatory knowledge of the state language in the country of residence is absolutely normal. Such a policy is practiced in the EU member states. In Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia language policy is much tougher than in Ukraine. Knowledge of the state language in these countries is a prerequisite for obtaining citizenship. Representatives of the Russian minority who do not want to learn the Latvian language, live without passport and have a special status of "not a citizen". The Hungarian authorities' claims regarding language policy in Ukraine are groundless. According to Verkhovna Rada vice-speaker Iryna Herashchenko, in Hungary there are no Ukrainian-language schools at all. According to the 2011 census, there are 5 633 Ukrainians and 3323 Rusyns living in Hungary near the borders with Ukraine.

Difficult neighbors

Hungarian ultranationalists have a great-power complex, they are characterized by irredentist sentiments - the desire to gather in one state territories where Hungarians live. Transcarpathian region of Ukraine is no exception. Hungarians live compactly in the border areas of Slovakia, Croatia. The Hungarian regions are in Serbia (Vojvodina) and Romania (Transylvania). In 2002, Hungary adopted a law on Hungarians living in neighboring countries, according to which they are granted privileges in the sphere of education and employment in the territory of the historical homeland.

Related: Why Hungary falls into geopolitical childhood, when recalling Ukraine?

Hungarian ultranationalists periodically exacerbate the situation around the rights of Transcarpathian Hungarians since Ukraine gained independence. In December 1991, with the connivance of the deputies of the Beregove district council, a referendum was held, at which 81.4% of the participants expressed a desire to form the Hungarian autonomous region. In 2000, local Hungarians proposed the creation of the Prytysyansky district in places of compact residence of Hungarians in the territories of the existing Uzhhorod, Mukacheve and Vinogradov districts of Transcarpathia. In 2014, local public figures collected signatures for appeal to the Verkhovna Rada with a demand to ensure cultural and regional autonomy for the Hungarians, and on the website of the radio "Voice of Russia" in Hungary, material substantiating the need for a Hungarian-Ruthenian confederation in Transcarpathia was made public. The Verkhovna Rada and the Transcarpathian Regional Council ignored these initiatives.

Hungary carries out illegal passportization of Transcarpathian Hungarians. In 2010-14 years, in the Transcarpathian town of Beregove, was functioned the representative office of the "Jobbik" party of European MP Bailey Kovacs, who visited the pseudo-referendum in Crimea and supported the annexation of the peninsula by Russia. Officially, the function of such representation is to assist local Hungarians in cultural, educational, social and economic life. In fact, Kovacs helped Transcarpathian Hungarians to obtain a Hungarian passport, despite the fact that dual citizenship is prohibited by Ukrainian legislation. According to TSN, about 94 thousand Transcarpathian Hungarians have already received Hungarian citizenship under a simplified procedure.

The benefits for Budapest and the consequences for Kyiv

The obtaining of Hungarian citizenship by the ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries is beneficial to Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Thus, he creates a reinforced concrete electorate. The Hungarian passport is a gift for the Transcarpathian Hungarian, with whom he can travel to his historical homeland without having to issue a Schengen visa. Thanks to the voices of foreign Hungarians, the Fidesz party of Viktor Orban won the parliamentary elections in 2014.

Aggravation of relations with Ukraine is a distracting maneuver of Orban. Now he is in a difficult relationship with the EU because of the reluctance to place refugees on the territory of Hungary on quotas. The inflation of the problem around the observance of the rights of Transcarpathian Hungarians is a distracting maneuver aimed at shifting the EU's attention from Hungary to Ukraine. Orban is trying to keep the ultra-right party "Jobbik", which does not fully agree with the current authorities, under his control. "Jobbik" is in opposition and adheres to anti-Semitic and anti-Roma sentiments, considering that at the legislative level it is necessary to consolidate the notion of "gypsy crime", to take Roma children to boarding schools and to resist migration. Orban benefits from the fact that instead of criticizing his party, the Hungarian ultra-rightists concentrate on the problem of protecting the rights of Hungarians in neighboring states.

It is possible that the Hungarian authorities are acting in the interests of Russia. They created an excuse to block initiatives that are beneficial to Ukraine in the EU. Such initiatives are the decision to extend the EU anti-Russian sanctions, which be should supported by all member countries. Hungary is an energy-dependent state and buys Russian natural gas. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Siyarto is convinced that because of the negative impact of anti-Russian sanctions, Hungary's economy has lost 5.6 billion euros over the past three years.

Hungarian provocations in in Transcarpathia are not the real threat to Ukraine's territorial integrity. Transcarpathian Hungarians are in the minority, and they are not able to influence the change in the status of the region without the approval of Ukrainian authorities. At the same time, the local Ukrainian majority is not interested in transformation of Transcarpathia into Hungarian autonomy. In 1996, the association of public figures "Ukrainian People's Council of Transcarpathia" even wrote an appeal to the Ukrainian authorities, in which they protested against the "historical aggression" of the Hungarians. Hungary can make only information noise and is unable to carry out military provocations against Ukraine. The ambitions of the Hungarian ultranationalists are restrained by the membership of their country in the EU and NATO. For these organizations it is not profitable to see the emergence of new interethnic conflicts at their borders. However, Kyiv is not immune from political consequences, including Hungary's possible reluctance to continue supporting the prolongation of anti-Russian EU sanctions.

Related: European Parliament Member from Hungary denied entrance to Ukraine

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