Based on the 2001 census in Ukraine, more than 150,000 ethnic Hungarians live in the country’s westernmost region, Transcarpathia. Their number decreased significantly in the last two decades due to their massive emigration to Hungary. However, there are still at least 120,000 Hungarians living in the region. The New York Times went to Transcarpathia to report about the local Hungarians’ attitude towards the Russian invasion, Hungary and Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán. They spoke with many local leaders and made some interesting conclusions. Below you can read our summary. We also added some comments where we thought the American news magazine was misled.
The New York Times starts with the Trianon commemorations in Transcarpathia. The Kingdom of Hungary was torn up after WWI as a result of the Treaty of Trianon. The Great Powers gave large areas to the old and new neighbours: Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. The problem is that more than 3,000,000 Hungarians populated these territories. Transcarpathia was given to Czechoslovakia in 1920, but after WWII, it became part of the Soviet Union. After the disintegration of Washington’s cold war enemy, Ukraine gained control over Transcarpathia. Today, it is one of the most underdeveloped and poorest regions.
The New York Times argues that Transcarpathian Hungarians started to commemorate the Trianon peace treaty (4 June 1920) only after PM Viktor Orbán came to power in 2010. Hungarians kept this year’s commemoration ceremony low profile in order not to provoke the war-stricken Ukraine and its nationalists, the American magazine wrote.
The New York Times states incorrectly that Transcarpathian Hungarians did not commemorate Trianon before 2010. However, they are right that such an act may provoke Ukrainian nationalism in the current situation. They argue that Hungarians living in Transcarpathia are in an ambivalent situation: they receive a lot of (mainly financial) help from Hungary, while Kyiv acted hostile towards its minorities after 2014. For example, in 2017, the Ukrainian parliament accepted a law that made it almost impossible to teach in minority languages, including Hungarian, Romanian or Russian at schools. That was a catastrophic decision from a Hungarian educational perspective since most Hungarians pursue their studies in their mother tongue.
“Most kids and parents say, “Why do I need the state language? I don’t see my place here in this country”,
László Zubánics, the leader of the Hungarian Democratic Union of Ukraine, quoted a local.
Although the Ukrainian government’s main target was the Russian minority in the east, Hungarians also suffered in the west.
The New York Times calls PM Orbán an authoritarian leader who causes trouble for Hungary’s neighbours by playing on ethnic Hungarians’ feelings of discrimination by their government. “We are stuck in the middle of the field, because on one side is Hungary, and the other side is Ukraine,” told Dávid Árpád, a local pastor, to the magazine. They argue that Orbán tries to “bring ethnic Hungarian enclaves in Ukraine and elsewhere under his sway.” The New York Times says the purpose is to keep him in power since these Hungarians have citizenship and a right to vote.
That is; however, a false statement. In the 2022 general elections, Orbán’s Fidesz-KDNP alliance did not need the votes of the Hungarians living abroad to get a supermajority. They won 134 mandates out of the 199 (133 were needed for the 2/3rd majority) thanks to the inland voters. Hungarians living abroad decided about only one MP.
The New York Times says that the Hungarian government offered a lot of financial help to local, mainly Hungarian schools, churches, businesses and newspapers in Transcarpathia. Therefore,
Transcarpathia Hungarians are grateful, just like many local Ukrainians who could remain there thanks to Hungary’s help.
The magazine argues that Orbán is President Putin’s close ally in the European Union. Therefore, Orbán condemned the invasion but tried to “avoid antagonizing Putin. He tried to block European Union sanctions on Russian energy imports, on which Hungary relies. And he declined to give weapons to Ukraine, or even allow them to be shipped across Hungary’s borders.”
Furthermore, “Hungarian broadcasters cast doubt on Ukraine’s position that Russia invaded to steal Ukrainian land, instead of sharing Moscow’s perspective that it invaded to protect Russian speakers — a minority with a different language, not unlike the ethnic Hungarians.”
The New York Times writes about
Ukrainian allegations that Hungarian priests had talked about Transcarpathia’s Hungarian annexation after Kyiv’s in the first days of the invasion. However, they add that such news has never been confirmed.
Furthermore, they add that there were Russian attempts to destabilise Ukraine. In Ukraine, for instance, many received text messages with a threat using another word for ethnic Hungarians: “Magyars to the knives.”
The American magazine says that “some ethnic Hungarians have started to look back on Soviet rule as a time of relative cultural freedom as well.” László Zubánics said, “it was a time when Hungarians recall holding prominent official positions, unlike in modern Ukraine.”
For residents like Zoltán Kázmér (32) the present feels more complicated. He feels loyal to Ukraine, he admitted. However, it was Hungarian funding that allowed him to turn his family’s century-old winemaking tradition into a business, the New York Times wrote.
“When we go to Hungary, we feel like Ukrainians,” he said. “When we are in Ukraine, we feel like Hungarians.”
Source: The New York Times