Since breaking away from the Soviet Union in 1991 and gaining its independence, the Ukrainian state has faced huge difficulties. The collapse of the economy, the lack of democratic institutions, poverty, emigration to the West, and, on top of all that, political instability has hindered the establishment of a stable, democratic country. At the beginning of the 2000s, a slow consolidation process began but the demonstrations in Kiev in 2013 (the so-called ‘orange revolution’), followed by the East-Ukrainian war, renewed and even intensified tensions.
Although the country now wishes to join the European Union and NATO, Kiev does not meet the standards, primarily of the minority protection treaties, because of increasing nationalism and xenophobia. Ukraine, like Austria and Slovakia, prohibits dual citizenship – mostly targeting ethnic Russians living in the country, but also actively harming Hungarians in the process. Hungarians currently make up a smaller minority group of around 150 000 people. Although Hungary granted citizenship to Hungarians living outside of the country, those residing in Trans-Carpathia don’t dare to accept in fear of losing their Ukrainian citizenships.
Ukraine has around 43 million inhabitants, and its biggest minority group is now formed by Russians (according to the 2001 census 18%), but there are Hungarians and Romanians living in the Western part of the state, too. Other ethnic groups including the Belarusians, Bulgarians, Crimean Tatars etc. exist in the country, although none exceed 300 000 people. The situation facing Hungarians was far from ideal following the break of the Soviet Union, and it further deteriorated as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Hungarians in Trans-Carpathia were conscripted and forced to fight for Donetsk and Luhansk. They lived nearly 1 000 km from the conflict and only shared a common history with the Russian-Ukrainian world for 70 years. Naturally, the Hungarians felt they had nothing to do with the war. In order to avoid being conscripted many Hungarian men emigrated to Hungary or Western Europe – often with families – thus decreasing the number of Hungarians in the community. The war claimed dozens of Hungarian victims as well.
Minority rights in education are continually becoming poorer. The new educational law has drastically reduced the use of the mother tongues of minorities and made Ukrainian the sole official language. With this, the rights of citizens possessing other mother tongues have been severely violated. As the economic situation worsens, the Ukrainian government is willing to play the nationalist card and an array of absurd bills is under preparation to restrict minority rights. One such bill suggests that citizens should only address officials of the state in Ukrainian and that those who break the rule should be heavily fined.
Unfortunately, in the short-term, there appear to be no signs of the war ending or the economy strengthening. Unless serious changes are made, the situation facing minorities in Ukraine is expected to deteriorate further.
by Dénes Sályi
featured photo by by ukranews.com