Hungary and Ukraine: Here are 5 facts you should know

Ukraine did the right thing when it recently withdrew a bill that would strip dual citizens of their Ukrainian citizenship. However, as Foreign Minister Szijjártó said last week, this is only “the first step” if the country is serious about its Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

To encourage further steps, Minister Szijjártó announced this week that Hungary will initiate a new NATO policy on Ukraine for the protection of ethnic Hungarians in Transcarpathia. Proposed legislation and laws already adopted by the Ukrainian legislature run contrary to the commitments Ukraine had previously undertaken towards NATO. That’s why, according to Szijjártó, “to maintain Ukraine’s NATO integration process, we propose that the Ukrainian government ensures that minority groups belonging to NATO member states are exempted from the implementation of laws that restrict the rights of national minorities.” More on the proposal here.

Hungary, according to press reports, is "blocking" Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration by prohibiting meetings of the Ukraine-NATO Commission and calling on Brussels to do more on behalf of ethnic minorities. We've seen a number of criticisms lately of the Orbán Government for taking such a firm stance, some have even gone so far as to claim that we're the weak link in the EU-NATO chain, merely doing Moscow's bidding.

That's baloney. Even though Kiev has finally withdrawn a bill that would strip dual citizens of their Ukrainian citizenship, we still have some serious disagreements. Here are five facts you should know: 

Fact #1: Hungary has been one of Ukraine's strongest advocates in its Euro-Atlantic integration

We were among the first countries to support the initiative to grant visa-free travel of Ukrainians to the European Union. Over the last years, Hungary took more than 1,500 Ukrainian children (whose families have been affected by the war in Eastern Ukraine) on holiday to Lake Balaton and Lake Velence. Even though it was against our economic interest, the Hungarian government always voted for the EU’s sanctions on Russia. Hungary sent more than 200 tons of aid, medicine and equipment to Ukraine’s war-torn regions. The list goes on and we can’t help but feel a bit betrayed.

Fact #2: Hungary submitted specific reservations regarding Ukraine’s discriminatory education law

The 7th article of the act limits the right of ethnic minorities to access to education in their mother tongue. Specifically, the article would limit such access to education in kindergarten and primary schools only, making Ukrainian the sole language of secondary and higher education. The law – ignoring the country’s constitution and international commitments – strips ethnic minorities of their right to education in their mother tongue, which is a dramatic step backward compared to recent (or even Soviet) legislation.

“It is impossible to foster the learning of the state language with coercive methods. Appropriate means, motivation and good examples are the better approaches. The forced integration of Ukrainian minorities is a sign of a policy of open assimilation,” said Transcarpathian Fidesz MEP Andrea Bocskor about the proposed act.

Fact #3: Ukraine violates the constitutional rights of Ukrainian citizens belonging to national minorities to education in their native language. The legislation is also at odds with a number of international agreements.

The planned act violates Article 34 of the Copenhagen Agreement, Article 4.3 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National Minorities, and the No. 1201 proposal of the European Council, which Ukraine undertook to adhere to. Furthermore, the legislation goes against Article 8 of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and Article 13 and 14 of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

Fact #4: Hungary is not Ukraine’s only critic 

Last September, thirty-seven members of the European Parliament from Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland and Slovakia sent an open letter to President Poroshenko. The MEPs called on him not to sign the Ukrainian legislation into law, emphasizing that the new law would abolish 120 Romanian, 100 Hungarian and five Polish schools and violate specific international agreements – detailed above.

The foreign ministers of Hungary, Romania, Greece and Bulgaria also sent a letter to their Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Klimkin, Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland, and OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities Lamberto Zannier to express their serious concerns regarding this legislation.

An opinion by the Venice Commission also supports the Hungarian standpoint: it calls for the involvement of national minorities in the discussion, acknowledges the breach of international agreements and recommends a clearer, more precise rewording of the proposal.

Fact #5: Ukraine violates the NATO-Ukraine Action Plan, too 

The paragraph in question reads:

"In pursuit of its goal of closer Euro-Atlantic integration, Ukraine will continue to pursue internal policies based on strengthening democracy and the rule of law, respect for human rights, the principle of separation of powers and judicial independence, democratic elections in accordance with Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) norms, political pluralism, freedom of speech and press, respect for the rights for national and ethnic minorities, and non-discrimination on political, religious or ethnic grounds. This will include ensuring the adaptation of all relevant legislation in pursuit of these policies."