Transcarpathia is a geographical area located at the base of the Carpathian mountains. It’s the geographical area that today is the most westerly part of Ukraine. An area of land which borders Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, and Romania on one side, and which is bordered by the Carpathian mountains on the other.
As part of the Hungarian Kingdom, for a 1,000 years or so Transcarpathia formed the north-eastern region of Hungary. Then came the turbulence of the 20th century, and everything changed. From being a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, after the butchery that was the Treaty of Trianon, it belonged to Czechoslovakia, became an independent republic for two weeks, and then belonged to Hungary again. Following a Czechoslovak-Soviet government agreement, Transcarpathia was handed over to the Soviet Union. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, a referendum was held regarding the question of Ukrainian independence in 1991. Ukraine gained independence, and Transcarpathia acceded to Ukraine as a “special self-governing territory”.
Since that day, in-bred corruption has repeatedly demonstrated that Ukraine is unable to pull itself together. That is a stunning damnation of what was once the ‘bread basket of Europe’, a country that has some of the most valuable arable land going.
Decades of mismanagement has left the Ukrainians very much dependent on Russian energy. The east of the country, traditionally populated by Russians installed by Stalin sides with Russia, the western part of Ukraine pulls more towards the EU. Having disposed of the pro-Russian Yanukovych, the pro-western Ukrainians took control of parliament and started to make deals to develop the Crimean gas reserves with US companies. That’s when Putin sent in the troops. As is often the case, this is about money.
So how does this relate to the Hungarians? Well, there are still a lot of Hungarians in Transcarpathia, and they’re treated very badly in the land they are obliged to call home. The Ukrainians don’t like being controlled by the Russians, but there’s precious little they can do about it. Their failure to develop beyond a gangster state has placed them where they are today. Frustrated by their dependence on Russia, they vent their frustration. Typically the persecuted kick downwards, and so it is here. The Ukrainians vent their spleen on the Hungarians.
This policy ruffled the feathers of the Ukrainians, who took the idea of ‘external’ assistance for ‘their’ citizens as an affront. The Hungarian state has not backed down, nor backed away from their intent to help Hungarians beyond the borders.
The Ukrainians, however, rather than accept the help and money that the Hungarian state has poured into Transcarpathia, have promoted the nonsensically paranoid idea that Hungary is laying the groundwork for an armed invasion. The investments that Hungary has directed to Transcarpathia have benefitted all the people of Transcarpathia, not only the Hungarians.
- Unfortunately, the nationalist and ultra-nationalist elements of Ukrainian politics view everything through a prism of paranoia.
The reason for that paranoia lies to the east, but the minority in the west are a much easier target. Unable to strike back at the source of their problems, the minorities get it in the neck.
A language law was introduced to prevent Ukrainians in the east from being forced to speak Russian like the majority of residents there. The law gained popular support with reports that Ukrainians were being physically attacked for daring to speak Ukrainian. When push came to shove, however, the law turned out to be a blanket ban which restricted the languages of national minorities, Hungarians included.
Hungarian children in Hungarian-funded kindergartens and schools were prevented from continuing their education in their mother tongue. This meant nothing less than the retraction of a previously-granted right.
Ukraine aspires to the Europe that is the EU and NATO, yet continues to back-pedal where minorities are concerned. That’s not progress. If Ukraine truly has aspirations to sort itself out and move closer to the centre of Europe, distancing itself from Russian influence, it has to change tack.
Until such time, Hungary has the power to queer Ukraine’s pitch. Hungary will block Ukraine’s applications to join NATO.EU membership is miles off.
But there are wheels within wheels. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, so the US will not risk Putin’s ire by putting American army boots on Ukrainian soil. Russia benefits from increased tensions between ethnic Russians and Ukrainians as that keeps the US away from their doorstep. Now, however, the USA is paying a lot of attention. The Russian possession of the Crimean peninsula was a result of Ukrainian-US energy plans. The famed arable land of Ukraine has also been released for sale to foreigners. American investors are free to rush in and price the Ukrainians out of the market. The US will seek to ensure that its citizens and their businesses, are protected, irrespective of NATO membership. The Russians will seek to increase their influence, the Ukrainians, unable to strike back will step up their anti-minority attacks. Already, intimidation of Hungarians is on the increase.
One day prior to Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó’s official visit to Ukraine, letters threatening violence warned against his visit:
“...prepare for extensive bloodshed, Hungarian blood will flow”.
The Fidesz delegation to the EU has turned to the president of the European Parliament David Sassoli for assistance.
Whatever response the European Parliament chooses, one thing remains certain: Ukraine’s inability to control its citizens underlines the state it is in. Stuck in a time warp, intent on selling their very being to the Americans to rid themselves of the Russians, even the blind can see that Ukraine has a long way to go before they even come close to the essence of modern Europe.