Yevhen MAHDA, PhD
Abstract. Ukraine and Hungary have a long history of relations, filled with conflicts, misunderstanding and confrontation. Traumatic history of XX century seems to hard to overcome by Hungary. On the contrary, Ukraine appears to be unable to counter the challenges of growing Hungarian pressure effectively. Russian hybrid aggression created a new situation. In this new framework, Hungary and Russia turned out to be allies – against Ukraine.
Hungary is the part of microregion – Central&East Europe. The region of Central and Eastern Europe has become the foothold for Russian aggression. There are many reasons for this – the status of “bloody lands”1, multiple ties with the Russian Federation and the strong position of the Russian language, a long-standing habit of orienting oneself to Moscow. Russian strategists understand that the West is not ready (primarily, psychologically) to protect post-socialist states from harmful Russian interference. Therefore, it is in the region of Central and Eastern Europe that the hybrid activity of the Kremlin is most offensive.
The national building on this territory was influenced by two great empires – the Austrian and the Russian one. The main elements of the Hungarian national idea, as it formed during the XIX century, were: intransigence to Pan-German, Pan-Slavic and Daco-Romanian ideologies, preserving a unified and indivisible Hungary, securing Hungarian hegemony, with the Habsburgs against the national liberation movements of the Slavic and Romanian peoples. The Slavic (including Ukrainian) and Romanian peoples opposed the Hungarian liberation struggle against the Habsburg rule. As a result, in order not to fall under the domination of other peoples, the Hungarians provided their dominance with aggressive methods.2
All states of Central-East Europe experienced traumas in the XX century – battles of the world wars, deportations, collaboration, Soviet rule and repressions.
Hungary has all these traumas and her special one. The trauma of the Trianon treaty, which was signed almost 100 years ago, has been affecting the international policy strategy since 1920 and till nowadays. And sometimes this strategy and the tactics for its realisation confronts international law and sovereignty of other states. And even more – sometimes Hungary may find herself as an ally of the most dangerous aggressors of recent time – Russian Federation. And in the framework of this alliance, Hungary violates the sovereignty of Ukraine, in particular.
The roots of modern Hungarian policy in Ukrainian direction may be seen in 1918-1919. The current situation has historical parallels.
Hungary favoured the establishment of an independent Ukrainian state in 1918, although the two countries did not find a common language in the issue of Transcarpathia. The Hungarian side insisted in 1919 on the official recognition of Transcarpathia as a part of the Republic of Hungary, while the Ukrainian handheld its line: if the population would decide to become a part of Ukraine, it should be done. But the decision was made not by locals, but by Entente. On May 8, 1919, Transcarpathian Ukraine became part of Czechoslovakia, even though 68% of the population were Ukrainians, 19% of Hungarians and only 3-4% were Czechs and Slovaks. The Treaty of Trianon fixed the situation.
Since that time Ukrainian struggle for independence was neglected and even more – strong Ukraine could be a key player in the region, instead of Hungary. Since 1923-1924, there was a secret rapprochement between Hungary and Russia for a joint push against Romania.1
During 1938-1939, Hungary’s primary strategy was to reconsider its northeastern borders and reclaim its historical lands in Slovakia and the Carpathian region. On March 15, 1939, in Khust the Sejm (parliament) of the Carpathian Ukraine proclaimed the independence of the Carpathian Ukrainian state. On the same day the Hungarian troops invaded the territory of new state and for a few weeks annexed the Carpathian Ukraine. In 1939 in looked like a success, but II World War was another one loss for Hungary. It was defended, occupied by Soviet army, faced repressions. The fate of Transcarpathian region was decided by winners again, in 1945 the area became the part of UkrSSR.
The history of modern Hungarian-Ukrainian diplomacy started in late Soviet times. In September 1990, President of the Republic of Hungary A. Gönc visited Ukraine. The Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine L. Kravchuk made the return visit in May 1991. These visits were crucial for the future cooperation of two post-Soviet states.
On 31 May 1991, the Hungarian and Ukrainian foreign ministers signed the Declaration on Principles of Cooperation between the Hungarian Republic and the Ukrainian SSR for the Protection of National Minorities, which became the basis of Hungarian-Ukrainian relations and policies for the protection of national minority rights.
Relations developed after Ukraine gained independence. On December 6, 1991, the Treaty on Neighborhood and Cooperation between the Republic of Hungary and Ukraine was signed. And it was the first document of such importance for both countries. The Treaty was the first step on the long way of developing independent post-Soviet diplomacy and building Hungarian- Ukrainian relations. One of the critical statements of the Treaty was that states “…do not and will not have territorial claims on each other in the future”. 2 It can’t be said that Hungary has territorial claims now or ever had. In 2018, Hungarian Foreign Minister P. Siyarto in an interview with the Polish newspaper Gazeta Prawna stated that Budapest never planned to seize certain areas of the Transcarpathian region or seek for its’ autonomous status. He even claimed that Hungary does not suffer from the “Trianon syndrome” anymore. 3
The bilateral relations had their ups and downs. Hungarian politicians usually welcomed the Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine. And cooperation deepened after Hungary joined NATO and the EU. However, on the eve of the 2008 Bucharest Summit, Hungary did not accede to the statement by the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the United States regarding Ukraine’s support for the Membership Action Plan.
But the fact is that Hungary keeps on violating Ukrainian sovereignty. Hard debates started two years ago when the new Education Law passed by the Verkhovna Rada on September 5, 2017. The right of the Ukrainian state to demand the knowledge of Ukrainian language was called nearly the crime against the rights of the Hungarian minority.
The accusations and allegations against Ukraine are a desire of Hungarian political elites to divert attention from problems with democracy within Hungary itself. Hungary, on the one hand, is trying to be a prominent Central European country, and on the other hand, is trying to make others respect and contend.1
It looks like Hungary in the only country in Europe, which did not overcome the traumas of the Great War. We will not try to estimate how post-Trianon syndrome affects the Hungarian people, but it truly affects the Budapesht’s strategic goals and tactical tasks. It influences political rhetoric and parties’ programs, the agenda of elections. The Hungarian goals in Ukraine fall into the pattern – protection the Hungarian minority and claiming as huge autonomy and self-governing as possible. And they fall into the pattern of growing nationalistic movements in Europe. And the Trans-carpathia region is still the object of high interest in Hungary.
TRANSCARPATHIA CASE – VIEW FROM KYIV
Ethnic Hungarians have been living in the territory of modern Ukraine since the end of the IX century. The overwhelming majority of Hungarians (almost 97%) of the more than 150,000 people living in the Transcarpathian region are irredenta.2 The Hungarians are just 12.1% of all regions’ population.3 They have broad cultural autonomy and national representation at all levels of government, dual citizenship (which entitles them to work, study in Hungary, receive pensions, scholarships, other payments, etc. and even participate in the electoral process), and the regional status of the Hungarian language and other rights.4
The centre for Hungarian activity in the region is Berehove – town and district and Uzhorod. One of the critical problems is Hungarian passports and Cards of Hungarian. According to sociological research (2014), about 40 % of Transcarpathian would like to have a Hungarian passport.5 But of course, should be named such activities like promotion of Hungarian culture, language, history, fostering the local Hungarian identity. The analysis of Hungarian strategy and tactics is not the aim of the article6. We will focus on the official Kyiv’s reaction and the framework of hybrid aggression, formed since 2014.
There are several attitudes to Hungarian activity.
Neglecting the problem
Speculations on the conflict
Wish to prevent escalation
Some local politicians are ready to speculate on the issue to get benefits from Kyiv – like a payment for keeping the problem under control.
Neglecting the problem is one of the most popular positions. It is easy to understand why – conflict with Hungary is not as hot as with Russia, Hungary seems not as dangerous as Russia. Moreover, there is one neighbour on the West, whose natural history with Ukrainians causes more significant and more painful problems – Poland. Some Polish politicians are not as pro-Ukrainian, as Ukraine would like. Relations between Ukraine and Poland are vulnerable, and in fact, Russia never misses a chance to play with old offences and problems.
But of course, Ukrainian diplomacy is doing her best to prevent the escalation of the conflict between Hungary and Ukraine.
At the end of 2018, the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation and Ukrainian Sociology Service hold an opinion poll in the region. One of the key results is that the overwhelming majority of Transcarpathian people do not support ideas aimed at eroding Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Thus, 63.5% of respondents believe that Transcarpathia should remain in unitary Ukraine, another 17.4% support the idea of enlargement the self-administration, but also within the unitary state. Only 2.6% supported the idea of an autonomous region within federal Ukraine, and less than 2% voted in favour of independence and accession to another state. About half of the Transcarpathians agree that decentralisation reform will give the region’s local authorities more opportunities for development, while 22% do not believe in this prospect. It is significant that the proportion of citizens who think that the situation of the Hungarian minority has not changed or even changed for the better twice (40%) than those who believe that their condition has significantly or slightly worsened in recent years (21%).1
But this loyalty to unitary Ukraine should be used appropriately in Kyiv.
HYBRID WARFARE CONTEXT. ALLIANCE OF CONVENIENCE
There were different versions when the hybrid aggression against Ukraine started. One of the most apparent dates is in winter 2014. After the start of hybrid aggression, the Transcarpathian region has become a priority for Russian intelligence services and targeted information campaigns. The aim was precise – to create the proper atmosphere for destabilisation, to incite ethnic hatred, to inspire separatist manifestations in the environment of local Hungarians.
In May 2017, the Security Service of Ukraine thwarted the provocation of secret services of the Russian Federation, who planned to use the conference of representatives of national minorities in Uzhgorod to announce calls for the provision of autonomous status. These slogans should have pushed patriotic forces to fight representatives of national minorities of the region. The Russian side also planned to use paid pseudo-activists to provoke clashes and confrontation.2
Russia focuses not only on Ukraine as a target of hybrid aggression. The EU countries are targets as well. Russia is trying to use its opportunities in Hungary by spreading misinformation there about the violation of the rights of Hungarians in our country. In addition, the Russian secret services are working towards manipulating certain political forces.
The usual choice for Russia is the far-right party – “Jobbik” in this case. Its leadership does not hide that the party’s goal is to create Rusyn-Hungarian autonomy in the territory of Ukrainian Transcarpathia. Jobbik representatives were “official observers” of Russian separatists at the pseudo-referendum in the Crimea in March 2014 and at the illegal elections in the quasi-states LPR and DPR. Bailey Kovach, the European Parliament member and Jobbik member, is one of Russia’s policy conductors in Hungary and Europe. This politician studied at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations in Soviet times, married a Russian woman and lived in Russia until 2003. Through close ties with Russia, party members gave him the nickname KGBaila. Bailey Kovach was accused of espionage in favour of Russia based on Hungarian counter-intelligence data in May 2014. 1
The ongoing hybrid aggression creates a convenient situation for Hungarian realpolitik in Hungarian-Ukrainian relations. The prime minister Viktor Orban accepts Putin’s game to gain the maximum benefit for himself and his party because he understands how Ukraine is fundamental to Russia perfectly.2
It may be surprising, but in the search for the profits from the alliance with Russia, at least the part of Hungarian society is ready to forget the suppression of the Hungarian anti-Habsburg revolution of 1848-1849 and the Soviet invasion of 1956.3
The Hungarian pressure and speculations over the Hungarian minority rights in Zakarpattya region may be explained by the Kremlin’s “hand” and to the fact that Ukraine’s conflicts with its neighbours are in Moscow’s interests. And Moscow fuels the appetites of the far-right Hungarian parties. Hungary is probably the only country in Europe where the Kremlin’s messages are widely distributed in the central media. 4
But this is not the only reason. Fueling and manipulation would never be so effective if it did not rely on the principles and key goals of Hungarian foreign policy in XX-XXI centuries.
So why this alliance of convenience became possible and what makes it useful?
Post-imperial syndrome is the problem both in Russia and in Hungary. Of course, Hungary was just a part of the empire and only for 50 years. But the process of Magyarization has something in common with Russification. And the trauma from losing Hungarian ethnic territories after the WWI is still painful.
Common Soviet past makes Russian values and methods understandable and acceptable
Ukraine both for Russia and Hungary is rather an object than a subject of international policy. Hungary time to time claims to “infringe upon the Hungarian minority” to other neighbours as well, but within the EU, such actions may have the opposite effect (the actions of the government of Viktor Orban already raise doubts about the democratic procedure), and with regard to Serbia they can provoke memories of repression of the Hungarian invaders during the Second World War. Therefore, Ukraine seems to be the most suitable object for demonstrating the determination of the Hungarian authorities to defend their national identity. 1
Transcarpathian region is the region with complex problems and conflicts, neglected for years. It has the potential of small Donbas, and it is dangerous. And Hungary often treats this region as an inner territory. Sometimes they even cross the line. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Siyarto in 2017 in Uzhgorod called for a revision of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU in connection with the adoption of the educational law.2
WHAT SHOULD UKRAINE DO?
It is obvious that national issues in Hungary have become a means of mobilising the electorate and will remain so for a long time. It is profitable to make national rhetoric as popular as possible. The boundary between patriotism and xenophobia or ethnic enmity must be drawn jointly.
Any Hungarian government will pursue a policy of protecting its national minority in neighbouring countries – that is the milestone of international policy of the country. Ukraine should use this fact to its advantage without creating artificial stimuli in bilateral relations.
Promoting the argument that the bilateral conflict is undermining the potential of Hungary and Ukraine themselves would be good to start with. Something like an informal agreement on the non-use of anti-Hungarian and anti-Ukrainian rhetoric in the internal narratives of both countries could be a useful step.
Promoting cooperation through the institutes of EU or Vyshegrad group could be an effective way to iron out differences and make the conflict less sharp.
It looks logic to seek support in states, which faced the Hungarian reclamations as well. And Romania seems to be a good ally. 3
And of course, the urgent need is to deepen the integration of Hungarian minority into Ukrainian society, political, economic, cultural life of Ukraine. That would be a significant step on the way of building the Ukrainian political nation.