Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

Aggravation of the Hungarian-Ukrainian crisis and its foreign policy consequences

In recent years, relations between Ukraine and Hungary have been characterized by great tensions due to a number of controversial issues. One of the main factors influencing the development of bilateral cooperation is Hungary's position on language and education laws. Despite some progress since the change of government in Ukraine, tensions between the two countries have escalated in recent months, due to the fact that on Election Day Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Siarto openly called on Transcarpathian Hungarians to support the Hungarian Party of Ukraine in the local elections, as well as the current mayor of Berehove, Zoltan Babyak. In response to such provocation the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry accused Budapest of direct interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine and banned the entry of two Hungarian officials. Ukrainian diplomats noted that the Hungarian side had thus dealt «an insidious blow to Ukraine's consistent efforts to constructively resolve the problems existing in Ukrainian-Hungarian relations». The Hungarian side, in turn, stated that Ukraine with «unfriendly steps» refuses Hungarian support for Euro-Atlantic integration efforts. In a comment for DW, Andras Racz, a senior fellow at the German Foreign Policy Association (DGAP), described Siarto's call as «undoubtedly unusual». The German expert adds that the strangest thing about the Hungarian Foreign Minister actions is the lack of practical benefit, because Zoltan Babyak would undoubtedly have won the election without the support of Hungarian diplomacy.[1]

It is noteworthy that even in the period of normalization and improvement of relations between the two countries followed the election of the President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Hungary did not give up on trying to influence Ukraine's domestic policy. One of the means of pressure of Hungarian diplomacy on Ukraine regarding the language law was their partnership with the Russian Federation. At the end of 2019, the National Assembly of Hungary sent a request to the State Duma of the Russian Federation to unite efforts to «protect the rights of linguistic minorities in Ukraine»; Executive Director of the Institute of World Politics Yevhen Magda noted that the positions of Hungary and Russia can only coincide in their hypertrophied attitude to their national minorities in Ukraine. «This is the only consolidating moment. It is also known that the relations between the Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban and Mr. Putin are quite warm. But we should not forget that Hungary is a member of NATO and the European Union. Therefore, the country will operate within the framework of the international legal norms like other NATO and EU members». Yes, Hungary may block the NATO-Ukraine commission, but Mr. Magda does not believe that Hungary's actions could be similar to those of Russia that we are witnessing in Donbas today.[2]

Trying to prevent a recurrence of the «Donbass scenario» in Transcarpathia, this time the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) reacted rather harshly. On November 30, the SBU conducted a number of searches, in particular, in the office of The Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association (KMKSZ), in the private house of the head of this organization, in the house of ex-People's Deputy Vasyl Brenzovych, in the office of the Transcarpathian Center for Economic Development Egan Ede and in the premises of the Transcarpathian Hungarian Institute named after Ferenc Rakoczi II. After searches, the Security Service stated that a number of printed materials promoting the so-called «Greater Hungary» and the creation of ethnic autonomy in Transcarpathia had been found. Simultaneously with the search, a video featuring deputies of the Syurtiv amalgamated hromada singing the Hungarian national anthem at a meeting was spread on the Internet. Another factor in the escalation of the conflict was the video address of an alleged representative of the «Right Sector» with his face covered, who threatens the Hungarians of Transcarpathia with personal persecution and their family’s harassment. At the same time, Hungarian and Russian media outlets reported on the rise of Ukrainian nationalism, which seemed to pose a threat to ethnic Hungarians.

This information field at this point in time is extremely unfavourable for Ukraine, as searches in Transcarpathia began just before the NATO ministerial meeting, during which the Allies discussed the NATO-2030 strategy, i.e. the Alliance's development plan for the next 10 years, including the issue of relations with Ukraine. Obviously, Hungary is using all possible means of pressure on Ukraine, taking advantage of its weakness. Its goal is much more ambitious, language, Hungarian passportization, blocking the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine are only means of returning to the status of Great Hungary at the expense of its neighbours. And the Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia is a convenient basis for this, which can simultaneously act both as hostages and as aids to such a revanchist policy of Budapest. It is very convenient for Budapest to make them a «victim» of the humanitarian policy of Ukraine and at the same time to cultivate Hungarian separatism on its territory.

Russia shows an example of how this can work with Ukraine. That's why Orban likes to discuss Ukrainian issues with Putin. He may be particularly interested in Russia's experience in «protecting» the Russian-speaking population and Russian passportization, which ends with the Russian occupation of Ukrainian territories such as Crimea and Donbas. So why can't the Hungarian leadership transfer this experience to the territory of Transcarpathia under the pretext of «protecting» the Hungarian minority, which makes up about 10% of the population of this Ukrainian region? Moreover, there have been plenty of examples of such policies in history. One of them was Hitler's capture of the Czechoslovak Sudetenland, which also expanded the Third Reich in the same way.

Foreign Minister D. Kuleba tries to explain such a revanchist policy of Budapest by the phantom pains of the «Trianon Treaty» and therefore Hungary «is very sensitive about any issues when history breaks into the present, or even tries to dictate the future». At the same time, D. Kuleba explains the tolerant and compromising attitude of official Kyiv to such a revanchist policy of Hungary by the following reasons. «Firstly, Hungary is an important neighbour in Central Europe, and we are also part of this space... Secondly, it is a NATO member state, and we would like to work normally with Hungary on Euro-Atlantic integration. Thirdly, it is a member state of the European Union, whose position is also important to us», the Foreign Minister explained.[3]

«In addition, Hungary in general in recent years has been very ambitious, not only in relation to Ukraine, but also to a number of other countries, and to the European Union as a whole», the minister added. But it is difficult to agree with him in this regard. Peter Siarto, who openly supported the «The Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association» party in the elections in Ukraine, behaved with Romania in an extremely correct manner, avoiding grounds for accusations. On December 3, 2020, he met in Budapest with the head of the DAHR Hungarian minority party Kelemen Hunor, and noted that he will not go to Romania to avoid suspicions of interfering in Romanian internal affairs. He also refrained from calling to vote for a specific party, noting that Romanians are choosing the future of their own country, although he added that for Hungary, increasing DAHR representation would be beneficial. So, Hungarian Foreign Minister treated the elections in Romania with all respect. Therefore, it is difficult to talk about a constructive dialogue until Budapest abandons its accusations, and thoughts of a «civil war», etc. The state simply left no other choice even for those in Ukraine who would like to have a friendly dialogue with Hungary. It is impossible to support such a policy towards Ukraine.[4]

But it is also impossible to support such a soft policy of Ukraine towards Hungary. The example of Romania in this Hungarian issue confirms once again - it is only possible to stop such a revanchist policy of Hungary with a strong position, demonstrating the intention to protect the state sovereignty by any means, rather than by the policy of requests, compromises and concessions.