Hungary’s Foreign Minister, Peter Szijjarto, has issued a warning that Hungary will block Ukraine’s EU accession talks until Ukraine stops discriminating against the Hungarian minority in the country. Szijjarto has demanded that Ukraine repeal several laws that Budapest sees as infringing on the rights of the Hungarian community in Ukraine. In an interview with RIA Novosti, Szijjarto expressed his concern about the situation in Ukraine, deeming it “unacceptable” and against European norms. He highlighted the drastic reduction in the number of Hungarian language lessons taught in schools in Ukraine, which has dropped to as low as 20% recently.
Hungary’s stance in blocking Ukraine’s EU accession talks is based on its belief that the Ukrainian government has been systematically discriminating against the Hungarian minority since 2015. The two countries have been engaged in a prolonged conflict over this issue. According to Szijjarto, Hungary is only requesting that Ukraine restores the rights that the Hungarian community had eight years ago.
Szijjarto also mentioned that Hungary and Romania had jointly requested the Council of Europe to examine the treatment of ethnic minorities in Ukraine. Late last month, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared that Hungary would not support Ukraine on any international issue until it restores the laws guaranteeing the rights of Transcarpathian Hungarians. Hungary has the power to veto Ukraine’s accession process in both the EU and NATO, as unanimous consent from all member states is required in both organizations to admit new countries.
There are approximately 156,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine, mostly in the Transcarpathia region. Transcarpathia was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but came under Soviet control after World War II and remained a part of Ukraine after the dissolution of the USSR. Ukraine is also home to around 150,000 ethnic Romanians and over 250,000 Moldovans.
The conflict between Hungary and Ukraine escalated in 2017 when Ukraine enacted laws mandating the use of the Ukrainian language, resulting in the closure of approximately 100 Hungarian schools in Ukraine. These laws have faced criticism from the Council of Europe and human rights groups for impeding the linguistic and educational rights of ethnic minorities.
The Hungarian government’s decision to block Ukraine’s EU accession talks reflects its commitment to protecting the rights and well-being of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine. By demanding the repeal of discriminatory laws, Hungary aims to ensure that the ethnic Hungarian community in Ukraine can enjoy their rights and maintain their cultural identity. The issue is not only a bilateral conflict but also impacts Ukraine’s relations with the EU and NATO. Hungary’s veto power places it in a position to exert influence and push for the necessary changes to protect the rights of ethnic minorities in Ukraine. The resolution of this issue is crucial for Ukraine’s progress towards EU membership and for fostering peace and stability in the region.