Rostislav Ishchenko: How Hungary Interfered in the Internal Affairs of Ukraine

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


Hungary is the most persistent and consistent fighter against the Ukrainian law on education adopted last year, which infringes on the rights of ethnic minorities. In particular, the law sharply limits the possibility of being educated in their native language, if this language is not Ukrainian…

The adoption of this law was condemned by Russia, Moldova, Hungary, Romania, and Poland. Ukraine long hasn’t paid attention to Russia’s protests, because it considers that it is in a condition of undeclared war with Moscow. For Russia the Ukrainian problem is also not reduced to only the law on education. Attempts in Ukraine to force out Russians abroad or to assimilate them have been made for a long time, and this, moreover, is contrary to current laws and the Constitution of Ukraine. Moscow solves this problem taking into account other problems, and, moreover, within the framework of the general geopolitical standoff with the US.

Chișinău has practically no way of influencing Ukraine, on the contrary, in many respects it depends on Kiev in respect of the transit of its freight to Russia and the Black Sea ports of Ukraine. In addition, the Moldavian authorities are divided, the views of the President and the government concerning foreign policy priorities are diametrically opposite. In these conditions, Chișinău can’t put serious pressure on Kiev.

Romania chose the method of limiting bilateral ties. Several official Romanian-Ukrainian events were cancelled, including at the top level.

Poland, without formally severing ties with the government in Kiev, suddenly saw Nazism in Ukraine, sharply strengthened its anti-Banderist rhetoric, and the position of Ukrainian gastarbeiters in Poland became more complicated. Kiev tried to “not notice” the changed position of Warsaw, then it started to snap, but this doesn’t cancel its dependence on Warsaw, including also deliveries of food, because in Poland 2 to 3 million citizens of Ukraine constantly work there for temporary jobs every year. Certain Polish experts speak about 5-6 million, but, seemingly, they include as gastarbeiters the inhabitants of the border regions of Ukraine who actively participate in small cross-border trade, and also those who are engaged in smuggling. However, these people also shouldn’t be dismissed, because they also feed themselves thanks to access to the Polish market.

It’s not even necessary to speak about Poland’s support for Ukraine concerning “Nord Stream-2”. Besides this, Warsaw didn’t refuse its traditional foreign policy strategy, according to which independent Ukraine orientated towards NATO and the EU is a guarantee of Poland’s security. That’s why the Poles in general rely on economic and informational methods of influencing the Ukrainian leadership on a bilateral basis. In addition, like in the Russian case, Ukraine represents for them a complex problem that can’t be solved only within the framework of revising the law on education.

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Hungarian-Ukrainian relations radically differ from all the ones previously mentioned. From the very declaration of independence of Ukraine, Transcarpathia, where Hungarians compactly live, demanded autonomy. Kiev succeeded to reach an agreement whereby the region won’t insist on the formal recognition of its special rights on the condition that de facto Kiev won’t interfere in its internal affairs, leaving them completely at the discretion of the local elite.

As a result, during many years, within the framework of a unitary Ukrainian State, Transcarpathia in fact had more autonomy than the autonomous (according to its name) Crimea. But Hungary had full freedom of work with the Hungarian community. Hungarians in Transcarpathia received Hungarian passports, Budapest financed the opening and maintenance of schools that teach in Hungarian, in places of the compact accommodation of Hungarians the Hungarian flag could be seen on State buildings more often than the Ukrainian one.

The new Ukrainian law on education was apprehended by Hungary as an infringement of developed and time-honored relations. Moreover, Budapest couldn’t not notice that, besides this law, Kiev aspires, leaning on nationalist gangs, to radically change the situation in Transcarpathia, bringing it to complete submission and eradicating autonomist tendencies and foreign influence. Ukrainian nationalists even started talking about the possibility of declaring an anti-terrorist operation in Transcarpathia.

The governor of Transcarpathia Gennady Moskal – an old experienced police General, who served all the Ukrainian authorities – warned Kiev about the malignancy of such a policy. He openly said that if Kravchuk, Kuchma, and Yanukovych weren’t able to find the forces and means to overcome Transcarpathian autonomy and preferred to be reconciled with it – being satisfied with formal loyalty, then it would be better for the current authorities, which are manyfold weaker and tied down by the civil war in Donbass too, to not push their luck and to not annoy an ethically variegated and extremely complicated region from the point of view of governance, which, in addition, is economically much more strongly orientated towards the East European neighbors of Ukraine (first of all – Hungary) than it is towards Kiev.

They didn’t listen to him, and fermentation in the region began. Like in 2014, after the coup, Transcarpathians started talking about the possibility of blocking passage in order to prevent nationalists from Galicia from landing here. But Kiev started strengthening its army group in the region.

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In these conditions Hungary chose the most rigid option of influencing the Ukrainian authorities. Using the fact that the rule of consensus works in NATO and the EU, Budapest started blocking all initiatives that aim to expand Kiev’s cooperation with these structures. It didn’t help. Ukraine decided to wait it out, hoping that “senior friends” – America and Euro-bureaucracy – will force Hungary to abandon their hard-line.

The calculation was wrong. Washington and Brussels have an array of problems besides Hungarian-Ukrainian relations. In addition, neither the EU nor the US believe any more that it is possible to squeeze out something of value from the corrupt Kiev regime; that there is no sense in spoiling relations with Hungary – which already several times spoke about the possibility of exiting the EU should its radical interests be ignored – because of this regime. Moreover, Budapest works according to the rules and norms of the EU, while Kiev demands that these rules and norms should be ignored for its sake.

Finally, the Hungarians decided that the policy of blocking the Euro-atlantic initiatives of Ukraine is incapable of reasoning with Kiev, which got the bit between its teeth. And, on May 21st, 2018, the government of Hungary adopted and sent a memorandum of protecting Hungarians in the Ukrainian Transcarpathia to its NATO partners and also to the Secretary-General of the alliance Jens Stoltenberg. It is proposed to spare ethnic minorities connected with NATO member States from the effects of the discriminatory laws of Kiev.

Ukraine outplayed itself.

Firstly, this is undisguised interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine. Moreover, Kiev has nothing to answer it with, since it itself made itself unilaterally dependent on NATO and the EU, in which it has no voice.

Secondly, Hungarians continue to act systematically, suggesting to spare all ethnic minorities connected with NATO countries, and not just Hungarians, from the effects of the laws of Ukraine (it’s not Kiev that will decide which laws are discriminatory and which ones aren’t). Thus, besides the Poles, Slovaks, Romanians, and Hungarians, interest in implementing this memorandum also arises in Turkey, Greece, and Bulgaria — the corresponding ethnic minorities live on the territory of Ukraine.

Thirdly, if NATO countries will thus decide to protect their minorities, they will create an international legal precedent that other States will also use. Moreover, this concerns not only Russia and Belarus, which have the most numerous minorities on the territory of Ukraine (if to determine this proceeding from the language of communication, then Russian-speakers in Ukraine even today are in the vast majority). A considerable minority, whose rights are being restricted by the very fact of the authorities’ support for the Banderist ideology, are the Jews in Ukraine. It is unlikely NATO will be able to refuse Israel the same rights that it extends to its members.

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Actually the offer of Hungary means the beginning of the division of Ukraine into spheres of exclusive interests where, with the formal preservation of the sovereignty of Kiev, in different regions of the country the legislation of the respective countries protecting their minorities will receive priority.

Of course, so far this is only a Hungarian memorandum, and not a document obligatory for implementation by all NATO members. But the practice of recent years shows that Budapest is persistent and consistent in achieving its goals, while Ukraine isn’t able to offer the West something that could induce Brussels and Washington to make a choice in favour of Kiev and contrary to the interests of Budapest. Especially as Hungarians, as was said above, accurately attach to their memorandum the interests of at least 7 members of NATO, as well as all other neighbors of Ukraine.

Of course, nothing will happen just tomorrow. But a word was said, the proposal was made, and bargaining began. In addition, it is the only proposal concerning the future destiny of a Ukraine that everyone became fed up of, which is lying on the Euro-atlantic table. Even if it isn’t fully realised, anyway, the practice of both NATO and the EU testifies that within the framework of searching for a compromise, as a minimum, it will form the final position of the West vis-a-vis Ukraine.

By the way, this doesn’t contradict the position of Russia. It should be supposed that Putin, who proposed to the EU to jointly restore Syria, is ready to make a similar proposal concerning Ukraine too. Especially as the economy of the latter is destroyed much more thoroughly than Syria’s, returning to normal life of tens of millions of Ukrainians will be much more expensive, and in Ukraine internal resources that are comparable with Syria’s haven’t been observed. So it is necessary for Europe to fork out not only to defend the rights of its ethnic minorities, but also to eliminate the consequences of its policy on all the territory of Ukraine.

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