Did Hungary turn to the Russian Duma for support against Ukraine?

File photo. Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin attends the first plenary session of the second International Forum 'Development of Parliamentarism', in Moscow, Russia, 1 July 2019. [Maxim Shipenkov/EPA/EFE]

Budapest has asked the Duma, the lower chamber of Russia’s parliament, for for assistance in upholding the rights of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine, a Russian official alleged on Tuesday (3 December).

“The parliament of Hungary turned to us in the Duma with the request to join efforts to uphold minority rights, primarily [the right] to language education,” said Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Duma at the Russian lower house plenary.

Volodin was referring to Ukraine’s law “On Ensuring the Functioning of the Ukrainian Language as the State Language” adopted in September 2017, which Budapest claims tramples on the right of the Transcarpathian ethnic minority to study in Hungarian.

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Hungary will ask the European Union to review its ties with Ukraine over Kyiv’s decision to scrap teaching subjects in languages of its ethnic minorities, including in Hungarian, from its secondary school curriculum.

The speaker of Hungarian national assembly, László Kövér, and Volodin had bilateral discussions on the sidelines of the fourth meeting of speakers of Eurasian parliaments in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan’s capital, on 23 September.

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“We discussed this issue at the last meeting with the Speaker of the Hungarian parliament, having received from him the decision of the highest legislative body relating to the joining of efforts to protect the rights of minority peoples living on the territory of Ukraine,” said Volodin.

Asked by EURACTIV to comment, the Hungarian parliament press office insisted that no decision regarding cooperation with the Duma had been adopted.

“The Hungarian National Assembly has not adopted a decision, which would concern cooperation with the Russian Duma on the protection of national minorities’ rights living in Ukraine, therefore no such discussions took place at the aforementioned meeting” the parliament’s press office told EURACTIV.

The Hungarian parliament passed a resolution two years ago condemning the education law. “On 31 October 2017, the speaker of the National Assembly sent the text of the resolution to all speakers of the Council of Europe member states, including to Vyacheslav Volodin,” stated the press office.

The comments of the Russian politician have not gone unnoticed in Ukraine. The Ukrainian embassy in Budapest has turned to the country’s authorities to verify Volodin’s comments and were given assurances that no request for cooperation were extended by the legislator, the Ukrainian foreign ministry’s press secretary, Kateryna Zelenko, said.

“We believe that Hungary, as an EU and NATO member, supports us in counteracting Russian aggression, will not form alliances with the aggressor against Ukraine and will also react to the appearance of this information,” said Zelenko.

The Hungarian national assembly has so far not made a public statement regarding the comments in the Russian Duma.

Volodin’s statements were not the only cause for tensions between Ukraine and Hungary this week. The Ukrainian ministry of foreign affairs handed the Hungarian ambassador in Kyiv, István Íjgyártó, a protest note on Monday (2 December) over his interview with a Ukrainian media outlet Glavcom.

The MFA found Íjgyártó’s statements regarding the autonomy of the Hungarian national minority in Ukraine and blocking by the Hungarian side of the activities of the Ukraine-NATO Commission unacceptable.

“What autonomy?” said the Hungarian ambassador in the interview, answering a question on whether there should be Transcarpathian autonomy in Ukraine. “There are 1.2 million Ukrainians in Transcarpathia, Hungarians — 150 thousand.”

The Ukrainian foreign minister Prystaiko tried to downplay the diplomatic incident.

“The summoning of an ambassador is normal practice”, said Prystaiko. “I was also an ambassador and I was summoned many times. This is a normal reaction of our country.”

Prystaiko thinks that Hungary should in the near future lift its veto on the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the political level because of the language law, according to European Pravda. This should happen after Ukraine’s expected adoption of a law that would exempt Hungarian private schools from the requirements of the so-called “language article,” reports Ukrainian media.

This seems unlikely. At the NATO summit in London, Peter Szijjártó, Hungary’s foreign minister, stated that Hungary will have the opportunity to lift its veto blocking the rapprochement between NATO and Ukraine if the Transcarpathian Hungarians regain exactly the rights they had before the language law.

Recently, the pressure on the minority rights has continued to grow “in a covert way, with the deployment of the Ukrainian secret service,” Szijjártó told state news agency MTI.

Hungarian authorities announced in October they will block a NATO statement on Ukraine but the demands of the government were accepted at the last minute.

Hungary blocks NATO statement on Ukraine over minority rights row

Hours before a Russian state visit to Budapest on Wednesday (30 October), Hungary vetoed a joint NATO statement about Ukraine because it did not mention the “deprivation of rights” of the Hungarian minority in the neighbouring country’s Transcarpathia region.

[Edited by Georgi Gotev and Samuel Stolton]

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