Hungarian government criticizes the Ukrainian government’s racial attitudes and claims that Kiev should not be admitted to NATO
Written by Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
Ukraine’s entry into NATO is again facing a severe barrier due to Kiev’s insistence on implementing racist and anti-humanitarian policies. Recently, the Hungarian government has severely criticized the way Ukraine has been dealing with the issue of ethnic minorities and stated that the country cannot be admitted to the Western military alliance because of such problems. The criticisms follow an old argument, already commented before by officials and experts from different countries. Indeed, Kiev’s political alignment with the West does not seem to reflect a profound move towards creating a “Ukrainian democracy”, which could be a serious problem for Europeans.
In a recent statement, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Siyjarto criticized Kiev’s policy towards the ethnic minorities that inhabit the Ukrainian territory, claiming that their rights are being violated, especially regarding the ban on the use of their native languages. These were his words: “Regarding the situation in Ukraine, our position here is unequivocal: we have always supported the sovereignty of Ukraine, it has never been questioned. But we also support the following position: we believe that the interests of ethnic minorities should not be [violated]. We also see that Ukraine violates many agreements (…) “However, we see that in the Transcarpathian region there are more and more conflicts and incidents, and the right to education in the mother tongue is being violated. We have asked the Ukrainian side to end this policy, but so far the necessary measures have not been taken”.
In the western world, the Ukrainian social reality is little known, which is why many people believe that the ethnic minorities existing there are restricted to Russian-speaking groups, which is not true. Many ethnic minority groups reside in the Ukrainian space, including even groups of Hungarian origin (mainly in the Transcarpathia region). All minority groups in the country have suffered heavy sanctions in recent years, when the ultra-nationalist government has come to exalt the Ukrainian identity as the only “legitimate” in the country, with the aim of polarizing society and creating tensions with Russia. As a side effect of this anti-Russian ethnic crusade, other identities are also being undermined and this is creating tensions even with countries that support Ukrainian sovereignty, such as Hungary.
In this sense, since 2017, bilateral relations between Ukraine and Hungary have gradually deteriorated. That year, the Ukrainian parliament passed a law that prohibits any language other than Ukrainian from composing the educational process in the country’s schools, which has generated much controversy among members of the Hungarian community. Subsequently, the Ukrainian Constitutional Court considered illegitimate and banned a 2012 law that would give the Hungarian language co-official language status in the regions where it is spoken. The move has affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian-speaking Ukrainian citizens, leading to repudiation by both the local Hungarian community and the government in Budapest.
To make matters worse, the case became a real political issue when, shortly after these events, Kiev began accusing Budapest of supporting the Party of Hungarians of Ukraine, a nationalist organization from Transcarpathia. Several operations were carried out in order to fight the party and to find evidence of the supposed sources of funding and support from Budapest, being all of them unsuccessful. There was great international scandal over this issue, with Hungary severely criticizing the Ukrainian attitude and classifying it the act as a real persecution against the ethnic minorities that inhabit the region.
In fact, the arguments used by the Hungarian side are right. For years, Ukraine has been going through a process of radicalizing its ethnic-related policies, harming all the minority groups that inhabit the country, which is unacceptable in the contemporary international scenario, where concerns about the implementation of humanitarian standards are growing. NATO is an organization of extreme relevance in this point, because, while the alliance rivals Russia, it is also concerned with the fulfillment of the most basic humanitarian norms, as it has among its members the nations considered “bastions of democracy”. In this scenario, Ukraine will have to decide between striving to improve its democracy – which includes adopting lenient and permissive policies towards ethnic minorities – or adopting a totally isolated posture, with few international allies.
At no time will Ukraine cease to be used by NATO. The country will continue to serve as a key point in an encirclement strategy to encourage rising tensions with Russia, as well as having its soil used as a base for military operations, tests, and maneuvers. But there will definitely be no room for Kiev on the alliance’s membership list as long as the Ukrainian government can damage the organization’s image as “global police of democracy”.
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