“THe is not Our war,” said kindergarten janitor Dorottya, citing Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban. “This is a Hungarian village. But Kidosh is in Ukraine, 10 kilometers from the border, in an area along the border that is mostly populated by Hungarians. Her 14-year-old son Gabor says he doesn’t feel Ukrainian, doesn’t speak Ukrainian, and because “here life is not good”, he wants to go to a boarding school in Hungary, where he may never return.
Official relations between Hungary and Ukraine have been frosty for years, and the war has made relations worse. As a result, the Hungarian minority in Ukraine suffered greatly. Its numbers have been dwindling, and wars are hastening the exodus. Its membership is also divided. Of course, says Kidosh winemaker Karoly Sass “This is our war, we live in this country!”
Almost all of Ukraine’s Hungarian minority lives in the western Transcarpathian provinces, often called Transcarpathians in English. Relations between Ukraine and Hungary were so good in the first decades of post-communism that in 2020 Hungary provided more than 250 million euros ($264 million) in aid to support local Hungarians and the Carpathians as a whole mountains. But relations have now soured until Jan. 19 when Tamas Menczer, a senior Hungarian foreign ministry official, accused Ukrainian officials of “atrocities” against ethnic minorities. It turned out that he was referring to the police removing the Hungarian flag from some municipal buildings near the town of Mukachevo.
Such language would please the Kremlin. Since 2014, Dmytro Tuzhanskyi, director of the Institute for Central European Strategic Studies, a think tank in Russia’s provincial capital Uzhhorod, said Russia has been working hard to instigate Transcarpathian violence through social media and other means. Racial tensions in the Sierra, but both ended in failure. Gabor claimed that the Treaty of Trianon, in which Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory, including Transcarpathia, in 1920 was actually a “deed” that expired 100 years later and should now be returned to Hungary. He probably got this crap from social media.
Surveys carried out by Mr Tuzhanskyi show that the possibility of ethnic conflict in the Carpathians is “virtually zero”. But there are also real tensions. Since 2017, education reforms have meant that Hungarian minority public schools must spend more time teaching in Ukrainian. This can be difficult for students.
A new minority rights law passed in December also raised questions. Sandor Shpenik, dean of the Ukrainian-Hungarian Institute of Education at Uzhhorod University, concluded that the Ukrainian authorities “want us to assimilate or leave”. Laszlo Zubaniks, chairman of the Ukrainian-Hungarian Democratic Union, expressed regret, “The problem is that the new generation has no motivation to learn Ukrainian because they cannot see the future of the country.”
leave them. According to the last Ukrainian census, back in 2001 there were 151,500 Hungarians in the Transcarpathians, or 12% of the population at that time. By 2017, a survey found that number had dropped to 131,000. Now, Mr Zubanics said, the number left has dropped to 75,000-85,000.Transcarpathian Hungarians have easily emigrated anywhere in the Carpathians over the years European Union, Because Hungary gave them passports.
Last October, the symbolic bronze sculpture of a Hungarian eagle that had loomed over the top of Mukachevo Castle since 2008 was replaced by a Ukrainian trident. The eagle “was erected as a symbol of friendship”, said (Ukrainian) mayor Andriy Baloha: But now things have changed. Although he denies this, analysts say the removal of the eagle was part of a spat between the “Baloja clan” and local Hungarian politicians.
If Kiev had fallen to Russia last February, Transcarpathia “would have been transferred to Hungary as a pro-Russia gift”, Mr Baloha said. Mr Zubanix scoffed at the notion. Greater Hungary cannot be rebuilt, he said. Meanwhile, while many Hungarians, like many others, may have fled Ukraine after the Russian invasion, Mr Spenik was keen to point out that some 300 of his fellow Trans-Carpathian Hungarians were on the front lines, fighting alongside their fellow Hungarians. Our fellow Ukrainians stand shoulder to shoulder. ■