Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The Deputy Prime Minister of Hungary Zsolt Semjén, commenting on granting the Hungarian nationality to inhabitants of Ukrainian Transcarpathia, declared that from the point of view of Budapest the Hungarians living in the region have the right to autonomy. In the last half a year Kiev started having problems with Romania and Poland concerning the rights of national minorities, which are gradually growing into territorial issues. But it is Hungary that acts more rigidly, more consistently, and more transparently than all the other western neighbors of Ukraine.
Budapest actually announced that it takes Transcarpathia under its patronage. Thus it relies both on the actual situation and on the norms of the Hungarian Constitution. Strangled by russophobia and dreaming of European integration, Ukraine quietly observed for decades how Hungary distributes its Transcarpathia (at the moment about 200,000 have been given out). Kiev was only glad that Budapest assumes providing textbooks to the Hungarian schools of Transcarpathia, as well as the preparation of teaching personnel and extra wages to teachers. And when Hungary took its under guardianship practically all the social sphere in the region, Ukraine was ready to dance from happiness, saying how much budget money can be saved… or stolen.
Budapest has been penetrating deeper and deeper into Transcarpathia — it was like this under every Ukrainian government. Kiev wasn’t perturbed neither by the gross violation of the Ukrainian legislation, forbidding dual citizenship, nor by the actual interference of Hungary in the affairs of the large border region. If it was Russia that committed such actions in any border region of Ukraine, the hysterics of the Kiev authorities would be audible even in Kamchatka. But it was considered that in the West there are only friends, and that all problems will be finally removed when Ukraine becomes a member of the EU and NATO.
Meanwhile it hasn’t yet become a member of the EU or NATO, and probably it never will. But territorial questions became more and more. Romania and Poland also act in the same way as Hungary, just not so openly. It is possible not to doubt that Warsaw and Bucharest will tomorrow issue the demands that Budapest issues today.
The demands of Hungarians are interesting because of the fact that they compel Kiev to legally recognise the already-occurred loss of control over the Transcarpathia region. We will note that the Constitution of Hungary indeed obliges the government to defend the rights of Hungarians in places of their compact accommodation worldwide. This mainly concerns the Ukrainian, Romanian, and Slovak territories in the Carpathian region, the Serbian Vojvodina and the northeast of Croatia. Budapest distributes its passports not only to the citizens of Ukraine. In total 870,000 passports were transferred to foreign Hungarians.
Nevertheless, Hungary hasn’t yet allowed itself to make such harsh statements neither towards Ukraine, nor concerning other neighbors on whose territory ethnic Hungarians live. Thus, Budapest has the old, even from the end of World War I, conflict with Romania concerning the Hungarians living in Transylvania, and who were subjected to assimilation. Hungary had no pretensions to Ukraine until 2017.
Budapest knows perfectly well that all legislative restrictions that the Ukrainian authorities push forward concerning the national question are directed against the Russian population. Kiev didn’t earlier interfere in the affairs of the Transcaparthian community, the economy of which was focused on illicit trade with this same Hungary, being satisfied with just declarative loyalty, which today doesn’t exist even for show.
The best example of this is the governor of Transcaparthia Gennady Moskal, with a vast vicegerency experience in regions disloyal to Kiev. This is already his second stint in Transcaparthia. Moskal always rigidly and steadily implemented the line of the central authorities in the region where he was appointed.
The crux of the matter is that during the past year Moskal has rigidly criticised Kiev from positions of Transcaparthian autonomism. He’s an experienced official, who was always ready to run across in time to the side of the winner. His present behavior says that he long hasn’t believed in the prospects of Ukraine in Transcaparthia. I.e. Hungary didn’t just stand in defense of Hungarians. It struck a blow on Ukraine, resembling the weakest link. Budapest acted at the time when Kiev demonstrated its full political impotence and loss of control not only over the regional elite, but also over the situation in the capital, where a presidential chair is being shamelessly shared with Poroshenko still being alive.
Actually, Hungary demanded the same reforms from Ukraine that Russia advised the latter to make in 2014 (and the obligations of which are recorded in the Minsk Agreements). In particular, the question is about the need for federalisation, for which it is necessary to make changes to the Constitution. Only now the wide autonomy (for the sake of which federalisation is necessary) is demanded not by the “pro-Russian” southeast, but the “pro-European” West of Ukraine (Transcarpathia hates Galician nationalists are hated, but is going to be integrated not into Russia, but into Hungary).
The fact that it is Budapest that acted first shouldn’t be surprising. The opportunity to resolve the issue in Ukraine is important for Hungary not only in itself, but also as a precedent that can be referred to in the future. But Romanians are already standing in the queue behind Hungary (they don’t hide their claims for Northern Bukovina and the Southern Bessarabia), as well as the Poles (so far they mention only “Polish Lvov”, but they are ready to remember also about Ivano-Frankovsk, Ternopol, and if they are lucky – also about Volyn).
One more entertaining story — with the Crimean Tatars. The pathetic remains of the “Mejlis”, several hundreds of politician-extremists who fled Crimea demand (they don’t ask, but demand) from the Kiev authorities to declare the Kherson region (where initially there were never any Crimean Tatars) as Crimean Tatar autonomy, and to transfer it under their governance.
An extremely important point: if in the Minsk Agreements there are mentions of territorial autonomy (and about the federalisation of Ukraine according to territorial criteria), then Hungarians and the Crimean Tatars talk about national autonomy. However, national autonomy is de facto recognition of national statehood. Catalonians, by the way, called precisely for this, justifying their right for holding a referendum on independence (by the very fact of agreeing to autonomy, Spain already recognised the national State of Catalonians, but only in its own structure).
The national minorities that are actually living in the limits of the Ukrainian borders (partially with the assistance of foreign states) began a campaign for the creation of their own national State formations (the Ukrainian Central Rada in 1917 also began with autonomist slogans). At the time of the disintegration or delegitimisation of the central bodies of power, it is precisely structures of autonomy (as the story with Crimea showed) that give more opportunities for the declaration of independence or for accession to its national State.
The haste with which Hungarians fight for autonomy testifies to Budapest not believing in the long existence of the Ukrainian State and being in a hurry to stake a claim to national (including territorial) interests.
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