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New tensions between Hungary and Ukraine; the Hungarian minority threatened

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Ukraine – A threat to expel the Hungarian Consul of Berehove (Ukraine), and new diplomatic tensions between Budapest and Kiev.

Updated on October 4, 2018.

Diplomatic tensions have been rising between Budapest and Kiev since September 2017, when the Ukrainian authorities decided to reform the educational system with the aim of eliminating the languages of all the minority populations in the country (primarily Russian, but also Polish, Romanian, Hungarian, and Bulgarian).

This led Hungary to veto Ukraine in a NATO-Ukraine summit in order to protest the consequences of the new educational law regarding the Hungarian ethnic minority residing in Transcarpathia. The arson attack committed in February 2018 against the Hungarian cultural center in Uzhhorod (in Hungarian, Ungvár) also reanimated these tensions.

On September 21, 2018, the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Pavlo Klimkin, declared that Ukraine was ready to expel the Hungarian Consul in Berehove (in Hungarian, Beregszász) if Budapest wouldn’t recall him.

This proclamation resulted from a video in which some of Ukraine’s ethnic Hungarians were taking part in a short ceremony during which they received Hungarian citizenship. At the end of this video, someone can be heard saying that they shouldn’t use their Hungarian passports at the Ukrainian border, but only the Ukrainian one.

Indeed, in principle, Ukraine does not recognize dual citizenship, and it’s better not to mention it to the Ukrainian authorities if one has received one, as there is a risk of losing one’s Ukrainian citizenship. The enforcement of this rule seems quite flexible, however, since it’s common knowledge that the oligarch and former Governor of Dnipro/Dnipropetrovsk, Ihor Kolomoysky, holds three citizenships, to cite but one example.

In 2010, when Viktor Orbán and Fidesz returned to power in Hungary, the Hungarian authorities initiated a reintegration policy for the numerous Hungarian minorities living in the regions surrounding Hungary, which are the consequence of the new Hungarian borders decreed by the Trianon Treaty in the aftermath of the First World War. This is how more than one million people, mainly from Romania and Serbia, received Hungarian citizenship between 2010 and 2017. Only the ethnic Hungarians from Slovakia were left out of this process as the result of an emergency law passed by the Slovakian parliament which mandated that Slovakian citizens would lose their citizenship should they take that of any other nation as well.

In the case of Ukraine, despite the de jure prohibition of dual citizenship, it seems likely that the authorities have decided to exercise tolerance, considering that these have been in greater demand given that the quality of life has significantly decreased since the 2013/14 crisis. Ukraine’s Hungarian community was estimated to number at approximately 150,000 in 2001, but has fallen since then, with an estimated 1,500 citizens leaving each year since then – particularly young people.

Another cause for concern for the Hungarian authorities has been a list that was posted online by a Ukrainian nationalist website (Myrotvorets, which means “peacemaker”) consisting of the names and addresses of Hungarian ethnic minority’s local councilors in Transcarpathia who are said to be holding dual citizenship with Hungary.

According to the news site Karpatinfo, in the cases of others whose addresses were published on this site – as for example the former MP Oleg Kalashnikov, and the journalist Oles Buzina – some of them were murdered within a few days. Even more troubling is the fact that, in 2016, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko admitted that he has limited control over this Website.

List published on the Myrotvorets Facebook page

Moreover, in Transcarpathia, groups such as the Karpatska Sich, whose name is derived from an armed Ukrainian nationalist group which operated in the region during the late 1930s, have organized demonstrations in recent years in which hostile and threatening slogans targeting the Hungarian minority were utilized.

Péter Szijjártó, the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, declared that the expelling of the Hungarian Consul in Berehove would not go unanswered by Hungary. Their primary retaliatory measure would be to block Ukraine’s attempts to join both NATO and the EU (as Hungary holds memberships in both), as Ukraine desires.

Szijjártó also claimed that these attacks are taking place because of the Ukrainian presidential election set to take place in March 2019, and said that he would soon meet his Ukrainian counterpart during a United Nations session.

Prior to the Ukrainian educational law that was passed in September 2017, Budapest was working towards good relations with the new administration in Kiev. Following the chaotic decade of the 2000s, when the liberal Left was in power in Hungary, the current government has developed a diplomatic strategy aimed at ensuring that Hungarian minorities in their neighboring countries are not a source a conflict, but rather a bridge towards good relations, in a logic of “win-win” consisting of negotiations and common interests.

Therefore, during his annual speech at the Fidesz summer camp at Tusványos in 2016 (in which he was the first head of government to speak of his hopes for Donald Trump’s victory), Prime Minister Viktor Orbán explained that Hungary was investing in Transcarpathia and supported the idea of Ukrainian citizens being able to travel to the European Union without a visa (Hungary and the other V4 countries supported this). And indeed, the visa requirement for Ukrainian citizens on short-term visits to the the EU was dropped in 2017.

Two years later, Viktor Orbán was less flattering about the situation in Ukraine: “I don’t envisage their membership in NATO, and the prospects for their EU membership are virtually zero. So at this point in time, instead of a new Ukrainian state, I see a Ukrainian economy increasingly drifting towards debt slavery.”

Meanwhile, the new educational law has led to a deterioration of relations between Kiev and Budapest, as well as with both Warsaw and Bucharest.

[Update of October 4, 2018] Ukrainian authorities announced on Thursday through Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin that the Hungarian Consul in Berehove (in Hungarian: Beregszász) has to leave Ukrainian territory within 72 hours.

Pavlo Klimkin met his Hungarian counterpart Péter Szijjártó in New York at a UN session. The meeting, however, did not settle the differences between Kiev and Budapest over the granting of Hungarian citizenship to the Hungarians of the sub-Carpathian Ukraine.

In response to the expulsion of the Hungarian consul, Péter Szijjártó announced that Hungary would also expel a Ukrainian consul, and would continue its veto policy in the desired rapprochement by Ukraine with NATO and the European Union.