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Zakarpattia getting a bit closer to Hungary and a bit farther from Ukraine

Foreign Minister of Hungary Péter Szijjártó meeting representatives of Hungarian Zakarpattia organizations in Uzhgorod. Source: MTI

On October 10, 2017, Foreign Minister of Hungary Péter Szijjártó was a guest of a morning talk show on the state-owned M1 television channel. The minister said Hungary will be seeking revision of EU Association Agreement with Ukraine to protect the rights of the local Hungarian minority. Szijjártó promised to raise the issue at the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg on October 16.

However, judging from MTI’s reports, Hungary disagrees not only with the education law, but also with the Ukrainian language law. If this is true and Hungarian journalists from MTI have not confused anything, Hungary’s claims to Ukraine appear to have grown significantly. According to the Hungarian minister, Ukrainian language law will have even more negative effect on the Hungarian minority in Ukraine.

He recalled that the new language law of Ukraine inherently runs contrary to the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. The minister called it a delicate issue with economic substance.

Besides, according to Péter Szijjártó, what is happening in Ukraine is a shame. He blamed European Union and other European institutions for failing to make any exact assessment of the Ukrainian language law.

On the same day, the minister talked to Kosshuth Radio blaming leaders of international organizations, including EU-related ones, for the same issue.

Earlier, on October 9, Minister Szijjártó travelled to Uzhgorod, the center of Zakarpattia region, Ukraine. Upon his visit, Péter Szijjártó announced his intention to demand revision of EU-Ukraine AA. Under EU laws, if any of the parties violates the AA terms, the Agreement can be disputed. According to the Hungarian minister, the AA provides national minorities with more rights, while Ukraine limits the rights of the Hungarian minority.

In Uzhgorod – the Hungarian Ungvár – Minister Szijjártó met with leaders of the local Hungarian organizations and Hungarian “historical churches” to discuss the situation with the new Ukrainian education law. All those present at the meeting agreed that the recently adopted education law will actually result in closing of Hungarian schools in Ukraine and deprive the local Hungarians of their right to study in their native language, which runs contrary to Ukraine’s international commitments. Foreign Minister of Hungary said he is negotiating with Head of Zakarpattia Administration Hennadiy Moskal who supports the rights of local Hungarians accounting for 12% of the total population of Zakarpattia.

While on a visit to Uzhgorod, Minister Szijjártó expressed claims to EU partners saying they should not keep silence about such a serious violation of the Association Agreement. He said the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe would discuss the issue on Thursday and Hungary expects a tougher stance on the issue. He said EU and its institutions in Brussels evidently like criticizing some member-countries if they think those countries violate the democracy rules, but there is a country that strives for EU and violates human rights at the same. The minister evidently meant Hungary and Ukraine. He seeks more international pressure on Ukraine, as he thinks that things go beyond the law violating the rights of national minorities. He blames Ukraine for a well-thought strategy of domestic policy that violates the rights of national minorities. Minister Szijjártó slammed U.S. Ambassador to Kiev for welcoming the law. He urges more pressure on Ukraine by international organizations.

The Hungarian minister’s criticism at EU partners, organizations and even U.S. for insufficient support to Hungary in its efforts to protect the rights of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine probably means that Hungary does not anticipate any serious assistance from the upcoming meeting in Luxembourg. On the other hand, by visiting Uzhgorod, the minister demonstrated that the local Hungarian organizations that are used to compete with each other and Budapest government have a single stance on the issue.

Besides, by mentioning his ongoing talks with the local administration, the minister showed that the region’s leadership shares Budapest’s stance on the rights of national minorities. Actually, this remote and specific region is getting a bit closer to Hungary and a bit farther from Ukraine, though Hungary’s desperate fight against Ukrainian education law is not likely to succeed at time soon.

EADaily’s European Bureau

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