Friday, 16 February 2018 09:50


János Széky, Radio Lemberg, 16.02.2018 


Being a Hungarian in opposition to the notoriously pro-Kremlin Budapest government, and a supporter of the Ukrainian cause, I can understand Michael MacKay's exasperation over MFA Szijjártó's (that's PM Orbán's) hostile gestures (see "Hungarian Government Keeps Bullying Ukraine"), but  I think he is unintentionally wrong on three points.


First. The Hungarian concept of Greater Hungary is not "exactly the same" as the Muscovite concept of Greater Russia. The histories of the two nations are very different. Unlike Muscovy, whose mode of existence was continuous territorial conquest from the 14th century until 1945, Hungary basically remained within the Carpathian Basin ever since the original Conquest of the Land in the late 9th and early 10th centuries, or the actual foundation of the kingdom in AD 1000. Although there were temporary conquests as well as losses, what we call Greater Hungary was a permanent geopolitical unit for a millennium, until the Trianon Treaty in 1920, when the multiethnic Hungarian state lost almost two-thirds of its area, and half of its population. To make things worse, the treaty fully ignored ethnic boundaries, so one out of three ethnic Magyars lost their Hungarian citizenship overnight. From 1938 to 1941through immoral but more or less peaceful arrangements, Hungary regained much of the Magyar-inhabited areas (restoring the old Kingdom of Hungary was an unrealistic aim even then); the price was entering the war on Hitler's side. After 1945, Hungary had to give up all those territories at Stalin's behest, so Trianon was deemed final. 


Therefore, nationalist thinking ever since World War II has not been motivated by recapturing lost territories (or not yielding footholds), but by the real fear of losing Hungarian communities beyond the 1920 borders through forced or "natural" assimilation. After the first period of massacres and deportations, things settled down, but the danger became palpable again when Romania's national-communist dictator Ceausescu proclaimed the policy of national "homogenization" in the early 1970s, which involved the gradual attrition of Hungarian-language education. Ceausescu himself said in 1973, "We cannot establish separate physical, chemical, or other specialized instutions for those young people who cannot understand Romanian... Romanian should not be a foreign language for any young person who lives in Romania." At that time 1.7 millions out of Romania's 20 million citizens were Hungarian, living mostly in ancient Magyar communities, whose village and city schools were founded in the 19th century at the latest. On top of discouraging Magyar or Szekler children from learning in Hungarian, the Ceausescu régime ordered establishing Romanian classes in places where there were practically no Romanian students. 


So these were the memories that the new Ukrainian Education Act, with its plan to close Hungarian classes, inevitably evoked in the Hungarian public. Not just in the Orbán government, which uses Trianon-focused nationalism for its own purposes, but also in the liberal and left-wing opposition. You can call it hypersensitivity, but it has nothing to do with aggressive nationalism. It is a fact that Kyiv should know and consider, if only because Moscow is aware of it, and makes use of it with its whole arsenal of special propaganda and provocations.


Second. Hungarian policies towards Kyiv may not directly stem from Hungarian nationalism or, on the other hand, what you may call justified national solidarity. Blocking or vetoing any steps toward Ukraine's EU and especially NATO integration as a way to make Kyiv change its ways would not occur to anyone except Orbán's close circles in the government, who a) do whatever Putin bids them, b) are in the position to block or veto in the first place. The Orbán government is alone in that respect among EU and NATO governments. Note how the method coincides with the Kremlin's strategic interests.


Third. Therefore there are no real signs that Hungary's hostile policies "will be rewarded". The compromise about suspending the law was the result of the Romanians' separate negotiations with Kyiv, rather than hard-line Hungarian blackmail. Szijjártó himself said "we have no remaining means" but blocking and vetoing. While there are other means, which the Romanian example shows, namely, negotiations. It is clear that Szijjártó does not want to negotiate.


What I would recommend to Ukrainian government people and influencers is to take seriously, and not to consider enemies, those Hungarians both from Hungary and Ukraine who are willing to negotiate, while still protecting hard-achieved and much-embattled minority rights.

The photo (from Wikipedia) shows the historical monument of the Conquest of the Land near the Verecke (Serednyoveretsky) Pass, where the Seven Tribes of nomadic Magyars entered the Carpathian Basin in 896 AD. The original monument was erected in 1896, and was demolished during the Soviet times. The present version is the work of Matl Péter (Petro Matl) of Mukacheve. It was dedicated in 2008, that is, not under Orbán's nationalist government but the previous, left-liberal one. It has been assaulted by extremists several times.

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