Official statement by the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban citing the need for an autonomous status and dual citizenship to be granted to the Hungarians living in neighboring countries, particularly in Ukraine, was not something far too unexpected or unpredictable. Such calls have been heard for several decades, but they were made by civic activists or third-tier politicians before. By the way, these sentiments awaken every time when Ukraine experiences political instability.
It was this way most recently on March 28, too, when after the Crimean “referendum” and the pompous “return of Crimea to the mother country,” 40 cultural and religious organizations representing Transcarpathian Hungarians appealed to the leaderships of Ukraine and Transcarpathia with a number of political, cultural, and educational demands, with the cornerstone certainly being recognition of Transcarpathian Hungarians as a nation-building and indigenous group, and, accordingly, granting them a national-cultural autonomy and recognition of dual citizenship. Most signatories of the appeal are little-known in the region, and some of them came to the spotlight for the first time altogether in connection with this document.
Demands of “apolitical” Transcarpathian Hungarian activists strangely coincided with anti-Ukrainian demarche by Tamas Gaudi-Nagy, a PACE delegate representing the radical rightwing party Jobbik, who attended a debate at the assembly clad in a T-shirt bearing inscription “Transcarpathia rightfully belongs to Hungary.”
It is unfortunate that the Hungarians took such actions these days, after Russia had launched an undeclared war against Ukraine, for it was the Russian imperialism that suppressed the Hungarians’ attempts to liberate themselves in 1849 and 1956 and instituted mass repression in that country after the Second World War. What prompted them to forget about the perpetrators of symbol of their national revival Sandor Petofi’s violent death somewhere in Siberia, thousands of other victims killed by the occupation armies of the Russian general Ivan Paskevich, Imre Nagy who was shot by Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev’s henchmen, and tens of thousands of Hungarians who died in Stalin’s “labor” camps in the Donbas, or had to flee the country? It would seem that all citizens of Ukraine should unite against a common threat now. However...
Some outsider might think that there are no proper conditions for the Hungarians’ cultural development and education. In fact, Transcarpathia boasts Hungarian-language kindergartens, dozens of schools with Hungarian language of instruction, the Hungarian institute in Berehove, and the Hungarian department at Uzhhorod National University. All of them are funded not only through sponsorship from Hungary, but in equal measure by the national and local governments in Ukraine. Language rights of Hungarians in Transcarpathia are protected much better than in the EU member states Slovakia and Romania. When our EU-integrated neighbors reach our level in this regard, then Ukraine may need to think of doing more.
Regarding the dual citizenship, only time will tell how this issue will be regulated by the Ukrainian law. It is already there de facto, as about 80,000 to 90,000 Transcarpathian Hungarians (and non-Hungarians) have obtained Hungarian passports. However, this effort to obtain Hungarian citizenship is dominated by economic rather than political motivations, enabling such citizens to live in two countries at once, earning money in Hungary, where wages are higher, and spending it in Ukraine, where prices are lower. The main reason for this is, above all, not the Transcarpathians’ wish to change their country of residence, but a real opportunity to get things done on the other side of the border: to legally find a better-paying job, to get an effective medical treatment without illegal fees, to get an education without bribing anyone, to do business without paying kickbacks to officials and paying off the supervisory authorities, to receive a decent pension and a lot more, which is still unavailable to the average Hungarian as well as the average Ukrainian in Ukraine. In other words, it is all caused by what Ukrainians were protesting against in Maidan, which somehow scared the Hungarians of Transcarpathia.
How far may the neighbors’ latest autonomist demands on Ukraine go? At this time, it is hard to answer this question definitively and convincingly. One thing is clear: if the Ukrainian society and the state do not adequately and reasonably respond, any new list of requirements will be expanded with new items, making autonomy look like a child’s play.
Csilla FEDINEC, Doctor of Philosophy; Senior Researcher, Institute for Minority Studies, Center for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences:
“Dual citizenship has existed in Hungary since the 1990s and cannot possibly be imposed abroad. This resulted from the reforms that made it easier to acquire Hungarian citizenship. From 2010 on, those who are of Hungarian origin or knows the Hungarian language could receive citizenship in a simplified way.
“Some countries reject dual citizenship. Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, and all Hungarian politicians have been emphasizing that it is the personal responsibility of individuals to take or not to take the citizenship of other countries.
“This issue has been over-politicized in Ukraine over the past 20 years. In political and even private everyday chats, this was associated with separatism. The events of the past few months have only confirmed this. The question of dual citizenship is of interest not only to the Hungarian minority in Ukraine, but also many other minorities – Rumanian, Russian, etc. There must also be a lot of Ukrainians who have dual citizenship.
“These issues should be settled, and there should be a dialog between countries. In Ukraine, this problem exists on such a level that no fine or imprisonment can be a deterrent. If you read the 1996 Constitution of Ukraine, you will see no objections. Nor are there any laws that regulate this issue. This means the state did not pay proper attention to this problem and it must not put the blame on its ‘disobedient’ citizens.
“Autonomy is not a problem of today. As for Transcarpathia, still valid are the results of the December, 1991, referendum – nobody has ever canceled them. There were two questions: granting special status to Transcarpathian oblast and establishing a Hungarian sub-district in Berehove raion.
“Mykhailo Hrushevsky wrote in March 1917: ‘We reject a police- and bureaucracy-based system and want our rule to rest on the broad foundations of self-government.’ I do not think that the word ‘autonomy’ is in any way identical with separatism. But the current circumstances in Ukraine may provide grounds to over-politicize this issue. For all that, the Ukrainian government is saying that the regions should be granted more rights and the system of power should be decentralized. It is not clear now what this will be called – autonomy or federalization. Still, I personally do not believe that federalization is a way out. But I think the question of granting autonomy to some regions could be considered.
“I do not think Orban is taking advantage of Ukraine’s weakness when he makes this kind of statements. If this problem began just now, these things could be linked. But all this began much earlier: at first, it was the question of not dual citizenship but of the card of the Hungarian, similar to the card of the Pole, which is also valid on the territory of Ukraine. Pressing this problem will only impair interstate and interhuman relations.
“What did Orban mean by the ‘European’ problem of the Hungarians living in Transcarpathia? This means that national – not only Hungarian – minorities is a European problem. This is clear on the example of Ukraine (not only regarding what the Hungarian prime minister said) and the Hungarians that reside on this country’s territory. The life of other ethnic minorities, including the Crimean Tatars, is also a European problem. As this problem concerns not only individual states, but also Europe as a whole, it should be addressed on the international level. Moreover, this is important for Ukraine which strives to join the European Union. Incidentally, the EU laws on minorities are very contradictory.
“Hungary does not reject dual, or even multiple, citizenship. There were elections to the Hungarian parliament last April. The Hungarian law on national minorities recognizes 13 minorities, including the Ukrainians. Each of them will have its deputies in the Hungarian parliament, who will express the opinion of the communities they represent. The Ukrainian minority will be represented in parliament by Jaroslawa Hortiani.”
Grigorij MESEZNIKOV, President, Institute for Public Affairs, Bratislava:
“As for dual citizenship, it is a politically acute issue for us, especially after a dual citizenship was passed in Hungary. Slovakia adopted a counter-law which proved to be rather unsuccessful. Under this law, individuals who acquire citizenship of another state are to have their Slovak citizenship revoked. This was a bad response. The law came under scathing criticism, especially from the opposition and the Hungarian minority. But this did not pose a big problem because, out of half a million Slovak citizens of Hungarian origin, only a few hundred applied for Hungarian citizenship.
“As for autonomy, it has always been on the agenda for the Hungarian government, particularly the one with Viktor Orban at the head. But the Slovak Constitution bans any territorial autonomy. The country’s territorial setup can only be changed if a special constitutional law has been passed. But a law like this cannot be passed because none of the Slovak parties will support autonomy. Even the two Hungarian parties do not support territorial autonomy openly. Therefore, the emergence of this kind of autonomy in Slovakia is totally ruled out.
“In the case of Ukraine, one must take into account the situation that differs from that of Slovakia. The Slovak Hungarians are not exactly eager to receive dual citizenship in a country which is, like Hungary, an EU member because they will not in principle benefit much from this. They have no restrictions on travel all over the EU.
“But in Ukraine, dual citizenship may perhaps have more serious political consequences, as the Ukrainian citizens who have acquired Hungarian citizenship will reap additional benefits from this. Naturally, they will be able to take advantage of this when crossing the border.
“As for autonomy, I don’t think it is the best time for the prime minister of a neighboring friendly state to speak about territorial autonomy in a situation when the Russian aggression is tearing Ukraine apart. In this case, I would expect a more balanced approach which would not complicate the situation in Ukraine.”
Maybe, Orban is working off Putin’s 15-billion-dollar loan to build nuclear power plants?
“I do not think it is directly linked with this. It is a traditional part of Hungarian governments’ agenda. The Hungarian Constitution has a special clause that binds over governments to maintain special relations with Hungarians who reside abroad. Establishing autonomy is the Hungarian state’s ultimate goal in the neighboring countries. But the necessity of autonomy is viewed differently in such countries as Slovakia, Rumania, and, partially, Croatia and Ukraine. As Ukraine is not an EU member, it will run a greater risk if it tries to apply this concept in practice.”
And what will you say about Orban’s statement that the Hungarian problem is now a European issue? According to the Western media, he continues to fulfill his election campaign slogan “Our message to Brussels: more respect for Hungarians.”
“Of course, there is a very strong element of nationalism here. But I think it is a gross exaggeration that Hungarian minorities is a European problem. On the other hand, this problem aggravates the relations between Hungary and the neighboring states, but it has not yet grown, fortunately, and I hope will never grow into a European problem – I mean something that the EU must deal with now. The European Union’s real problem is rebalancing the financial system and improving the functions of some institutions, while what we are discussing is in fact a regional problem that involves relations between Hungary and the neighboring states. I don’t think the problem of Hungarian ethnic minorities will be a crucial issue.
“I must note that Brussels does not exactly support this policy. In addition to these problems, the activities of the previous government, also with Orban at the head, were often an object of criticism by European institutions. I don’t think Orban will muster support for his concept from many EU allies. He in fact remains alone.”
Together with Putin…
“Russia would find itself in a very difficult situation here. Indeed, Russia is playing different games here. In Slovakia, it is trying to win over Bratislava, and it partially succeeds in this. Prime Minister Robert Fico openly opposes sanctions against Russia. Politicians rarely speak openly about such things. At the same time, he is known as a Slovak nationalist. Fico is a strongly anti-Hungarian-minded person. He may just have been keeping a low profile lately. He is nationally oriented, and his national orientation can be explained by the fact that he protects national and political interests from the likely pretensions of Hungary and Hungarian nationalism.
“Should Russia openly support any revisionism on the part of Hungary, it will naturally lose the opportunity to play its cards in, say, Slovakia. But this does not apply to Slovakia alone – this may also complicate Hungary’s relations with Rumania.”
Interviewed by Ihor SAMOKYSH, Mykola SIRUK, The Day
P.S.: Prime Minister of Hungary’s statement on the need to grant autonomy to the Hungarians in Ukraine had been mistranslated, first deputy chairman of the Democratic Union of Hungarians of Ukraine Elemir Kevsegi was quoted as saying by Ukrinform. “The statement made by Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban was mistranslated into Ukrainian. In his speech, the head of the Hungarian government was not speaking about autonomy as such. It was all about creating a national-cultural autonomy for the Hungarian minority in the Carpathian Euroregion,” Kevsegi noted. According to him, some circles with vested interests benefit from creating such “sensations” now. Let us recall that Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called Ambassador of Hungary in Ukraine Mihaly Bayer in over Orban’s speech. According to director of the ministry’s information policy department Yevhen Perebyinis, speech of Hungarian prime minister was not only “contrary to the laws of Ukraine,” but also perceived “with concern as it did not contribute to de-escalation and stabilization of the situation in our country.”