June 23. 2024. 12:56

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Transcarpathia stops Hungary from approving closer Ukraine-NATO cooperation

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter Szijarto expressed dissatisfaction over the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba’s recent presence at the Ukraine–NATO Commission, held in Brussels earlier this month for the first time in six years.

Hungary has continuously blocked Ukraine-NATO meet-ups since 2017, when the Ukrainian Parliament adopted legislation reinstating membership in NATO as a strategic foreign and security policy objective.

The row between Kyiv and Budapest occurred due to Hungary’s belief that Ukraine violates the rights of the Hungarian ethnic minority in Transcarpathia.

“The invitation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine violates the principle of unity of allies within NATO, but we will take part in the meeting in a constructive spirit,” said Szijarto in his post on Facebook.

He added that Budapest would stop blocking Ukraine’s rapprochement with NATO “only and only on the condition that the Ukrainians return to the Hungarians of Transcarpathia the rights they enjoyed until 2015.”

Transcarpathia is a region in Western Ukraine that shares a border with Hungary, home to 96.8% of the 140,000 Hungarians living in Ukraine and 98.2% of those that speak Hungarian as a native language.

Following Ukrainians (80.5%) in this region, Hungarians are the largest community (12%). Over the last decade, there have been heated debates between the two countries on the rights of the Hungarian ethnic minority in Transcarpathia, eventually leading to Hungary blocking Ukraine’s NATO accession.

The language question

In 2017, the Ukrainian Parliament passed a Law on Education which limited the existing rights of ethnic minorities to be educated in their native language. Two years later, a new State Language Law was adopted, proclaiming that the Ukrainian language was compulsory in all spheres of public life.

Even though the main objective of the new language legislation was to tackle the Russian influence in Eastern Ukraine, it has also raised concerns.

In 2019, the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s top advisory body on constitutional matters, said several of the law’s articles “failed to strike a fair balance” between promoting the Ukrainian language and safeguarding minorities’ linguistic rights.

In January 2023, the national flags of Hungary were taken down from the public buildings in several settlements, including the Transcarpathian town of Munkács (Mukachevo), and the employment of some teachers affiliated with the Subcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association (KMKSZ) was terminated.

The Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs State Secretary Tamás Menczer condemned the incident in January, stressing that these events are “unacceptable”.

“We do not exactly understand how anti-Hungarian decisions and measures help Ukraine in the war against Russia”, – he wrote on Facebook.

Currently, not all Hungarians in Transcarpathia can study in their language. The lack of Hungarian kindergartens and schools in some settlements plays a significant role in that, and the higher the level of education, the more Hungarian children and youngsters are forced to study in the state’s official language.

However, the Ukrainian State Language Protection Commissioner Taras Kremin’ identified “a lack of classes with Ukrainian as the only language of instruction in some districts of Transcarpathia”, which violates Ukrainian law.

He also noted that education in the language of ethnic minorities is not foreseen in Ukrainian legislation, but instead, “Separate classes(groups) teaching in the language of the national minorities should be established along with the classes in Ukrainian. The number and teaching hours of the subjects taught in Ukrainian should be gradually increased.”

The Ukraine’s renewed and exacerbated concern about the only state language can be explained by the ongoing war with Russia.

At the end of 2022, at the EFNIL International Conference, Ukraine presented a report on the Russian policy of “linguicide”, reminding that the Ukrainian language has been systematically banned and suppressed.

For Ukraine, the 2019 Law on the State Language finally introduced effective legal and institutional mechanisms to ensure the state status of Ukrainian.

Conflict of interests

Meanwhile, Hungary has invested billions in the Trancarpathian community for over a decade.

According to Árpád János Potápi, Minister of State for National Policy, the “Hungarian in the Homeland” program will be expanded, and Hungarian school children will receive financial help of a 100,000 HUF ( €250) grant.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced last November at the 20th Hungarian Standing Conference that the amount of education support for Hungarians living beyond the borders is expected to be increased from the next academic year 2023-24.

For Ukraine, however, such moves appear as Hungarian expansionism.

Following the appeals from Hungary, in February this year, the Venice Commission stated it would express its opinion regarding violations of ethnic Hungarians’ rights in Ukraine’s Transcarpathia and publish its findings by early summer.

The State Secretary János Árpád Potápi pointed out that the Ukrainian legislature “has not taken into account the recommendations of the Venice Commission so far,” and Szijarto stressed that the international community, the EU and other international organisations should make sure Ukraine does so.