Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (L) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
Hungary has made several gestures to Ukraine recently, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Transcarpathia (formerly part of Hungary, now Ukraine) to have talks with the leaders of the Hungarian community. Although these are certainly positive developments, representatives of the Hungarian community in Transcarpathia and experts are not necessarily optimistic that the tense relations between the two countries can be resolved soon.
President Katalin Novák signed the letter of acceptance of the Ukrainian ambassador-designate to Hungary, Sandor Fedyir (Sándor Fegyir), an important turning point in relations between the two countries, as the Ukrainian diplomat had to wait a long time for this. On the other hand, security expert Attila Demkó recalled that Hungarian ambassadors had to wait 6 and 8 months for the Ukrainian president to sign their letters of acceptance.
Meanwhile, Katalin Novák will visit Ukraine again in August. She is scheduled to visit Transcarpathia first and then, at the invitation of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, to participate in the next meeting of the Crimea Platform summit on 23 August.
In addition, the Ukrainian President recently visited Transcarpathia, where he met with representatives of the Hungarian community. The Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association told Magyar Nemzet that the meeting should definitely be seen as a positive gesture. During the talks, the problems that affect both the Hungarian community in Transcarpathia and other minorities living in Ukraine were formulated in writing and verbally. These include, among others, the constitutional rights to language use and education in the mother tongue.
The Ukrainian President promised to resolve the problems raised after the war ends. The Association said it was certain that
the rare visit provided an opportunity for the Transcarpathian Hungarians to voice their concerns in person, which might otherwise have reached the President only through his advisers and the press.
However, the question is whether the positive events of recent weeks can serve as a first step towards resolving the strained relations between the two countries. István Íjgyártó, former ambassador to Kiev, told Magyar Nemzet that the Ukrainian presidential visit and the meeting with Hungarian leaders was undoubtedly an important gesture, but it should also be stressed that it was exclusively for the benefit of Transcarpathian Hungarians. At the same time, an extremely unpleasant and accusatory statement towards the Hungarian government was published in the press recently by presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, who regularly portrays bilateral relations in a negative light.
Even if the leadership in Kiev may wish to treat the problems of the Hungarian community in Transcarpathia with a little more benevolence, it is still not the aim to improve relations with Budapest as long as the Hungarian leadership does not behave in line with Ukrainian expectations.
If there would be a change in this respect, it would be judged by the reception and possible results of Katalin Novák’s visit to Kiev, István Íjgyártó concluded.
He added that an important aspect of the visit to Transcarpathia by Zelensky was that the representatives of the Hungarian community were able to raise their concerns directly, especially about the negative consequences of the education law adopted in 2017. István Íjgyártó pointed out that Ildikó Orosz, President of the Hungarian Pedagogical Association of Transcarpathia, presented the Ukrainian President with a complete package of proposals for solutions. The question is whether this will have any effect and what practical steps the Kiev leadership plans to take to remedy the grievances.
As an important gesture, he also mentioned that the Ukrainian President thanked the Hungarian community in Transcarpathia for their sacrificial support and, by extension, for the humanitarian efforts in Hungary, which have not been thanked by Kiev so far, and have been mostly silenced by the Ukrainian media.
The former ambassador also pointed out that the Ukrainians had recently turned down the volume of their criticism of Hungary. One of the reasons for this could be that the events – such as the NATO summit – where Hungarian policy could be claimed to be against Ukraine, have mostly already taken place. Instead, however, the Ukrainian side has sought to stir the pot with smaller, controversial stories, such as the case of the Ukrainian ambassador.
The expert recalled that Hungary is often presented as a state in constant conflict with other neighbors, for example by quoting negative articles in the Slovak press. “Overall, I would attribute the fact that there are fewer ‘anti-Hungarian’ articles to the less eventful summer period rather than to any positive shift,” he concluded.
Featured photo via MTI/Miniszterelnöki Sajtóiroda/Fischer Zoltán