For more than four years, Ukraine has been in a state of hybrid war with Russia. It seems that the whole world is already aware of this sad fact, condemning Russian aggression. Amid of this, Hungary is on the sidelines, which itself undertook to take hostile steps against Kiev and purposefully interferes in Ukraine’s internal affairs. Obviously, seeking to get hold of Ukrainian lands, the government of Orban assumed the role of the fifth column of the Russian Federation in Europe. A well-coordinated game with Putin can lead Hungarians to very disastrous consequences.
Hungarian language of ultimatums
In autumn of last year a new law “On Education” was adopted in Ukraine. The document provides mechanisms to protect the Ukrainian language by applying it as the main one in the course of the school educational process, including with the spread to national minorities. The provisions of the law provide that children of representatives of national minorities should study in Ukrainian from the 5th grade, and learn their native language as a separate discipline. The law does not exclude that some disciplines can be studied in the languages of EU countries.
Although the new law will fully work only in 2020, a whirlwind of emotions has just risen around the document, and the desire of the Ukrainian parliament to defend the state language has led to the frankly hostile reaction of a number of foreign states.
In the forefront of the attack on Kiev were the Hungarians, where the populist Fidesz party of right-wing orientation, headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, is in power. The Hungarian Foreign Ministry stated that Hungary will block and prohibit any steps that could mean further progress in the process of European integration of Ukraine in the spirit of the Eastern Partnership program. The thesis was voiced that the Hungarian government firmly asserted that Ukraine violated “many international conventions” without specifying which ones. Nevertheless, Ukraine can forget about the European future. At the same time, the country’s parliament unanimously adopted a resolution with claims to Ukraine. But many of the accusations against Ukrainian deputies were far from reality and were based on twisted data or were completely fictional.
The decision of the Hungarian parliament states that the law on education requires “closing” all schools, universities and vocational colleges with Hungarian language of education. Although in the text of the law there is not a single hint at the closure of educational institutions. Also, the deputies of the Hungarian National Assembly are sure that the teaching process in minority languages becomes impossible, although the law on education refers to the possibility of teaching several subjects in foreign languages, including Hungarian and Romanian.
Although Ukraine, in order to appease foreign partners, passed the law for examination to the Venice Commission, but this did not stop the flywheel of criticism, promoted by the Hungarian side. Orban and his supporters continued to construct the image of the enemy from Ukraine, in order to win more seats in the general election on April 8, 2018 on the wave of nationalist rhetoric. But even after the announcement of their results, the Hungarian politicians continued to exert pressure on Ukraine and block foreign-policy events, which are important for Ukraine.
At the first meeting of the government after the elections, a memorandum on the protection of the rights of Transcarpathian Hungarians was adopted. The document was aimed to the leaders of all NATO member countries and the Secretary General of the Alliance. In the memorandum, the Hungarian government invites NATO members to take into account “the problems of national minorities in Ukraine related to Ukrainian laws”.
According to Hungarian officials, these laws violate the rights of minorities. This document opened a new front of anti-Ukrainian rhetoric of the Orban government, associated with the blocking of Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
The head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Hungary Peter Szijjártó played the most active role here, which from the beginning was at the forefront of anti-Ukrainian policy of his country. He stressed that Hungary will not support the rapprochement of Ukraine with NATO, until Kiev “will not stop the offensive against the Hungarian minority”. In particular, Budapest launched a campaign to block the holding of the Ukraine-NATO Commission. To remove the Hungarian veto, Ukraine must fulfill a number of conditions.
In particular, three conditions were sounded from him:
The first condition is that the transition period relative to the language of education should be extended until 2023, and Ukraine must agree with the minority on what changes will be introduced during this time;
The second condition is that the rule on the language of education should not apply to private schools;
The third condition is that Ukraine should begin consultations with representatives of the Hungarian minority.
Kiev, realizing that Budapest is acting in full swing with its ultimatums, made several concessions. In particular, consultations with representatives of the Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia began. It was expected that after this the Hungarians will make concessions also, and a meeting of the joint commission will take place at the Brussels summit of NATO.
But later it turned out that Hungary does not intend to do any steps to meet the Ukraine. On the contrary, even after the summit, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjártó accused Kiev of “doing nothing” to change the language provision of the law on education.
“We are in serious conflict, because Ukraine has done absolutely nothing about the expectations of the Venice Commission and the European Union. We continue to negotiate with them, but nothing has been done, having almost eight months to bring the law on education in line with international expectations”, – Szijjártó said. He directly explained that the meeting of the Ukraine-NATO commission was not held before the NATO summit in Brussels because of the blocking of Hungary.
Szijjártó masks purely Hungarian aspirations to narrow the application of the Ukrainian language in Transcarpathia to the wishes of the international community. At the same time, even the conclusions of the Venice Commission refer to the practice of applying the educational law, and do not indicate that the Ukrainian parliament should make any changes to it. What are the reasons for such vehement resistance on the part of the Hungarians of Ukraine’s realization of the elementary right to use the state language in the sphere of education?
The imperial ambitions of the Hungarian neo-horthists
After the First World War, the Austro-Hungarian Empire disintegrated. Hungary, following the Trianon agreements, lost 70% of its territory, and began to feel strangled and humiliated. 3 million Hungarians were outside the borders of a stripped-down country.
Just as Hitler’s regime in Nazi Germany took step by step to liquidate the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, similar measures were taken by the Hungarian government of Regent Miklós Horthy to review the Treaty of Trianon. Throughout the period between world wars, the Hungarian political elites maintained and promoted two basic concepts of development: integral – the restoration of historical borders, ethnic – the union of all the Magyars in Hungary.
“Trianon trauma” and rejection of the “Versailles system of post-war settlement” largely predetermined the rapprochement of Hungary with the axis of Rome-Berlin. As a result, Budapest began to pursue an aggressive policy of collecting lost lands. This policy reached its apogee in 1938-1941. During this period, the Hungarians seized the territory of the Ukrainian Transcarpathia and South Slovakia under the terms of the First Vienna Arbitration. Under the terms of the Second Vienna Arbitration, Northern Transylvania withdrew to them from Romania. And in 1941, during the Yugoslav operation, in which the 3rd Hungarian Army took part, Budapest occupied Vojvodina, and later annexed Baranya, Bačka, Međimurje and Prekmurje.
The policy of collecting Hungarian lands is called horthism, and it is important to emphasize that no other fundamental tasks, like the conquest of living space, authoritarian regent Horthy regime did not set before them. Politically, he relied on the revival of great Hungary, historical revanchism and the correction of the historical injustice inflicted on the country by the Treaty of Trianon.
It is extremely important to remember that these goals were achieved not only by weapons, but also with the use of soft power. The educational system was subordinated to these goals. Students were took an oath every day: “I believe in God! I believe in one homeland! I believe in the eternal divine truth! I believe in the revival of Hungary! “
Today’s Fidesz party, led by Orban, in some way repeats the historical line of Horthy, and they can be christened neo-horthists. The Hortism defines the Hungarian “right-conservative paradigm”, because it is only one rational option for overcoming the crisis and restoring historical justice from the point of view of the Hungarian nation.
The modern Hungarian elites, like the Russians with their “Russkiy Mir” (Russian world) project, are trying to revive their regional influence during the times of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with the help of ethnic Hungarians and Hungarian non-governmental organizations, promoting the idea of creating Hungarian autonomies on the territory of other states.
The Hungarian government conducts the most active and aggressive work on the formation of a platform for creating autonomies in Romania and Ukraine. Officials of the Hungarian state, such as the deputy of the European Parliament and the representative of the Romanian Hungarians, Laszlo Tökös, Hungarian Ambassador to Ukraine Erno Keshkien or the Hungarian parliamentarian Marton Gengeshi, made statements on the necessity of creating autonomous entities of ethnic Hungarians.
The Hungarian autonomy policy in the “Székei Krai” of Romania and the Transcarpathia region of Ukraine, where about 1 million ethnic Hungarians live, regularly causes diplomatic scandals and political blackmail at the interstate level. Using the state resource and Hungarian public organizations, the main objectives of Hungary in Ukraine is to obtain actual control over the adjacent territories of the Transcarpathia region, which cover the Berehove and Vinogradovo districts, where the majority of ethnic Hungarians live.
The autonomist policy of Hungary towards Ukraine is carried out in two main directions: the “passport policy” and the program of economic support for ethnic Hungarians at the expense of the state budget and the budget of public organizations. To date, the “passport policy” in Ukraine has ensured the support of ethnic Hungarians in the parliamentary elections of the Fidesz Party, whose activities have recently been accompanied by increasingly Euro-skeptical sentiments. Its leader, acting Prime Minister V. Orban, defends the position of Ukraine’s introduction dual citizenship for the Hungarians and believes that the only one factor to forcing the policy of obtaining autonomy in the Transcarpathia region is the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Economic support for ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine includes the provision of free loans for the development of small businesses (formally the program is designed for all residents of the Transcarpathia region, but the interview is conducted exclusively in Hungarian, which has unfair character), support for family businesses, assistance in the production of cadastral documentation on land plots.
Modern neo-horthists also repeat the educational experience of their predecessor. For example, an autonomous education system is created on the territory of the Transcarpathia region, which can be safely considered an alternative to Ukrainian one. This happens by financing the educational and cultural centers of the Transcarpathia region, as well as providing irrevocable financial assistance from the state budget and the budget of such public organizations as “Egan Ede”, against which a case for separatism is initiated in Ukraine.
The Hungarian government, as well as public organizations “Egan Ede” and “Gabor Betlen Foundation”, by allocating hundreds of millions forints to support such educational institutions as the Transcarpathia Hungarian Pedagogical Society, Mukacheve Lyceum named after St. Istvan, the Transcarpathia Hungarian Institute named after F. Rakotsi, as well as research institutes in its composition, automatically introduces ethnic Hungarians into the cultural, educational and scientific field of Hungary.
If Budapest achieves its goal and the amendments into the Ukrainian law on education desired for the Hungarians will be passed, Transcarpathia will be completely under Hungarian influence in the near future and will lose linguistic and cultural ties with the mother part of Ukraine. This approach is well within the Russian plans for dismembering the Ukrainian lands.
Orban as Putin’s useful idiot
Relations between Putin and the Hungarian Prime Minister Orban have undergone a certain evolution: from an ardent critic to a useful idiot. For a long period of time from 1988 to 2009, Orban was one of the most anti-Russian politicians in Central Europe.
In 1989 he spoke about “Russian”, not a “Soviet” empire, and demanded the withdrawal of “Russian” troops from Hungary. In the world view of Orban and his generation, an important role was played by the memory of the suppression of the Hungarian uprising of 1956 led by Nagy Imre and the ensuing repressions, and that tens of thousands of Hungarians were sent to the Soviet Gulag after the Second World War, and even about the events of 1849 year, when the Russian troops helped the Habsburgs suppress the insurgents during the war for the independence of Hungary.
When Orban was elected prime minister in 1998, unlike his predecessors, he avoided traveling to Moscow, and strengthened his anti-Russian rhetoric. At the same time, an economic crisis began in Russia, which hit hard on Hungarian companies that exported their products to Russia.
While critics accused him of “surrendering the Russian market,” he fought against Gazprom’s attempts to buy controlling stakes in Hungarian chemical companies. During the war in Kosovo, Hungary, a member of NATO, did not pass through its territory a Russian train with humanitarian aid for Serbia for a month, stating that part of the train’s freight was imposed an international embargo. In general, Orban was a very ardent anti-Putinist.
Everything changed dramatically in 2009, when Orban saw in the Russian authoritarian regime a political model that met his aspirations. He really liked the Russian illiberal democracy, and the constant restriction of democratic freedoms, and Orban took the course of “opening to the East”. Russian companies received contracts for 10 billion without a tender to upgrade and expand the Paks nuclear power plant. Orban also received from Russia a cheap source of energy in the form of gas supplies.
The Russian aggression against Ukraine only strengthened the relationship between Putin and Orban. In particular, in March 2014 the Russian parliamentarian Vladimir Zhirinovsky invited Budapest to take part in the partition of Ukraine, and to regain Transcarpathia.
In this context, we should not forget that the cooperation of Fidesz with Russia has the same revanchist-political character as Horthy’s long-standing cautious cooperation with Hitler’s Germany. Trying not to interfere in serious processes and not to be considered as a “100% true ally”, Hungarian politicians tend to maximize the bonuses that come from such cooperation.
Hungarians pursue purely Hungarian interests, and at the moment they see in Russia that “strategic partner” who can “restore historical justice” and help the Hungarians reunite or even return some lands for very little concessions from the Hungarian side. For such a policy and closeness to Putin, US Senator John McCain, called Orban a “neo-fascist dictator”. But clearly he could not be compared with Miklos Horthy or Ferenc Salashi, and he could be called a useful idiot.
Of course, the Kremlin and Putin encourage support Hungarian expansion in Transcarpathia for a reason. They have used Budapest more than once to put pressure on Kiev. In 2015, after the visit of Russian President Putin to Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that the official Budapest refused to resell Russian gas to Ukraine. He said that he would not support the European Union’s plan to integrate energy policy after Budapest reached an agreement on gas supplies with the Russian president. Vladimir Putin promised Hungary a more flexible contract with Gazprom.
It is striking that Orban makes appeasing statements about the conflict in the Donbass. Avoiding the mention of sanctions, he stated that “our remarkable foreign policy strategy has come up against an obstacle in the form of a Russian-Ukrainian conflict, if it can be called so, since it is not clear who fights with whom”. Putin’s regime uses Orban to lift international sanctions, which became apparent in 2017, when in February 2017 in Budapest Putin sought to enlist by Hungarian support to break through the sanction wall.
In July of this year Orban stated during his visit in Moscow: “As for bilateral relations, we also believe that they are developing well, I thank you that you noted it, Mr. President. Frankly speaking, if there were no sanctions now that would harm us, we could move ahead with much more anticipation. Naturally, these measures are detrimental, and we are losing opportunities. I would like to assure you, Mr. President that we are for the normalization of relations between Russia and the Western world”.
His rhetoric extremely undermines the international legal order, because he calls for cooperation with the aggressor in exchange for economic gifts. That’s why the Hungarian government wants to remove the Ukrainian issue from the agenda, as insignificant, and apparently considers becoming a party to the new “Munich Pact” whose object may be the Ukrainian territory.
But Orban and his associates should not forget how participation of Budapest in the partition of Czechoslovakia in 1938 ended. Defeated in the war, Hungary not lost only all its territorial acquisitions, but its sovereignty was crushed by Soviet tanks.
Now, playing up to Putin and undermining the security of NATO and Ukraine, Budapest can repeat again the sad fate, and no one will come to its rescue. The price of this mistake can be fatal, but in some way fair. After all, connivance of aggression is no less evil than aggression itself.