Speech by Ildikó Orosz, Rector of the Ferenc Rákóczi II Transcarpathian Hungarian Institute
23 October 2018, Budapest
Honourable Prime Minister, Honourable President of the Republic, Church and Secular Dignitaries; Fellow Celebrants,
I stand here in awe, like a first-form pupil who has arrived for their first day at a new school. I wasn’t even alive in 1956, I haven’t done anywhere near as much for my nation as the heroes of 1956, and I feel unfit to give a speech. The young people of sixty-two years ago had the courage to pit themselves against one of the world’s greatest powers, so that the Hungarian generations who followed them could have the chance of leading lives of more worth and freedom. They did so because they felt that communism was untenable and led nowhere. They acted not only for themselves, but for the future of the Hungarian nation: for you, and also for us. I have them to thank for the fact that I can stand here today, because it was they who began to dismantle the communist world in Europe. In my person, you are seeing and hearing the Transcarpathian Hungarians and the Transcarpathian ’56ers.
I bring you the message of the Hungarian community, which did not exist in this form until the 1944 Soviet occupation. As part of Upper Hungary, after the Treaty of Trianon this region became part of Czechoslovakia. As the result of a Soviet-Czechoslovak pact, one day the people living there suddenly woke up in the Soviet Union. Life in their new country began with men being taken away to labour camps, for “a little work”. They were followed by the intelligentsia, the Protestant, Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic priesthood, labourers and farmers who were declared to be kulaks, and those women who stood up for their husbands. In Munkács [Mukachevo], a decree issued by a hastily convened workers’ council declared that the Hungarians and Germans were the eternal enemies of the Ukrainian people. As a result, for years the children of these “enemies” were not eligible for military service, but were instead sent to work for three years in the coal basin of Donbass, in conditions similar to those in a forced labour camp. Those who didn’t go or who escaped home were sentenced as criminals. We can only thank divine providence for the fact that we are still here, because, as Stalin said, “In Transcarpathia the Hungarian question is only a question of having enough railway wagons.”
So by 1956 all Transcarpathian Hungarians had experience of the Soviet system and how it operated, but their hearts beat as one with the nation, and everyone anxiously followed the developments. They did what they could, each in their own way: some tried to escape across the border to join the Revolution, and groups were formed throughout Transcarpathia which distributed flyers or wrote slogans on walls calling for the Soviets to leave Hungary. When in late October Soviet tanks rumbled through our villages, everyone looked on in concern, and tried to contact their loved ones. But where were the ancestors of those who today refer to Hungary as Russia’s puppet? Most of them approved of the Soviet troops’ “restoration of order”.
When Hungary was finally able to bid farewell to the Soviet occupation, we in Transcarpathia naively thought it was the arrival of a new world. We soon woke up to the fact that the symptoms of Europe’s illness may have been treated, but the illness itself remained deep within its body. The means by which communists and fascists exercised power in the 20th century still haunt us today – especially in Ukraine.
They want to brand us Transcarpathian Hungarians as the cause of the country’s near-bankrupt economic and political state. We are being targeted. In recent years it has become everyday practice for television stations to mislead public opinion with programmes that defame the Transcarpathian Hungarians. Our historic sites and commemorative plaques are vandalised, and our history is being rewritten. At one academic conference, a professor declared the Hungarian community to be retarded, and compared them to dogs. The headquarters of the Hungarian Cultural Association has been bombed. In the cities, masked youths have organised torch-lit marches and chant “Knife the Hungarians!” The events resemble the anti-Jewish unrest of 100–150 years ago. Most recently, the personal data of dual nationals was published on a website that is regarded as a death list, and a petition on Parliament’s website is collecting signatures for our deportation to be debated.
No one in the world – except Hungary – has raised their voice in our defence. They have not supported us. It is as if the world and its mouthpieces – the non-governmental advocacy groups which at other times are so loud, the militant defenders of minority, human and individual rights – cannot hear and see what is happening, and it has not reached their response threshold. Would the world behave this way if this were happening in another country, with similar events intimidating another minority – or if it were happening in Hungary, for instance? Absolutely not!
Only Hungary has stood by us. Thank you Hungary!
The provocations aimed at us have greatly multiplied. The Ukrainian parliament has adopted its Act on Education, which runs counter to the Ukrainian constitution, previously adopted Ukrainian legislation, and ratified international and bilateral agreements – including the 1992 Hungarian-Ukrainian cooperation agreement. In the latter agreement, Hungary recognises Ukraine’s borders, while Ukraine guarantees to assure – and in fact to expand – the rights acquired by the Hungarian minority living on its territory. By adopting the new Education Act, is has violated this agreement: our rights are being severely curtailed, and therefore this measure could be interpreted as a political termination of the agreement. And they are intensifying the attack on minority rights through the Language Act, which has been adopted at its first reading, and which effectively muzzles those who are not native speakers of Ukrainian.
The latest accusation against us is that of separatism. As a result, people are being harassed for hours at the border, their vehicles are emptied, and they are being subjected to multiple body searches. Everything possible is being done to make us go, to force us to leave the land of our birth. But we are in our home: this is our home, and we want to live, work and prosper where our ancestors are laid to rest. From here I would like to send a message to everyone who does not understand: we are indigenous to this region, like Native Americans in the United States, and we ask for protection for ourselves and our culture in accordance with international norms.
I would be glad if the Ukrainian state took proper care of us, and we didn’t need the support of the Hungarian state. As tax-paying Ukrainian citizens we receive hardly anything to help us maintain our culture – often not even what we are officially entitled to. Meanwhile, every form of support given in order to help us survive in the land of our birth is seen as separatism – particularly if that support comes from Hungary. These funds, however, enrich the country. Every single kopiyka is officially taxed, and generates multiple returns for the state: this also benefits the Ukrainian population; it is enough to think of Hungarian medical treatment for Ukrainian soldiers returning from the front, and the provision of free holidays for their children. Without this aid, Transcarpathia – and especially its Hungarian territories – would have been bankrupt long ago. The biggest taxpayer in the city of Berehove [Beregszász] is our institute, which is solely supported by the Hungarian state: we do not receive a cent from the Ukrainian state – only regular surveillance and frequent vetting.
Thank you for sharing in our destiny with active fraternal love!
We, the Hungarians of Transcarpathia, want nothing more than what everyone else yearns for: to be able to build a more or less dependable future for our families in an environment in which we can feel secure. This primarily requires a stable political and legal environment in which the wealth generated and the taxes we also pay are shared proportionately – and not according to the principle of “those who are equal, and those who are more equal”.
We, the Transcarpathian Hungarians, are extremely grateful to the Hungarian government for its economic, social and cultural assistance, and for its political support – which is as forthright, pure and noble as the struggle of the youths of 1956. May this ardour carry forward the Hungarian nation, both at home and abroad!
Our wish is for the Hungarian state to always be as strong as it is now, and to always develop at its current rate. As Széchenyi said: “God never helps people directly, but only indirectly: through their intelligence, knowledge and industry […] The greatness and happiness of the nation always and only resides in the nation itself.”
God bless the Hungarian, so that the nation may find happiness and regain its greatness!
Thank you for your attention.