Hungarian Minority in Ukraine -
"Strengthen Ukraine by Strengthening Minority Rights"
As Russia completes the annexation of Crimea, creating a fait accompli probably impossible to reverse, the situation in Ukraine proper remains fraught with uncertainty. For the Hungarian minority in Ukraine the situation is especially precarious, particularly in light of a proposed ban on minority languages currently being pushed by nationalists in the Ukrainian parliament. While the legislation is currently stalled, it is essential that the United States and the European Union remind those Ukrainians hostile towards ethnic minorities that, as noted by World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder, “one of the basic tenets of liberal democracy is that minority rights are protected.”
This is especially important because the backlash to the loss of Crimea could fuel ultra-nationalism and intolerance. We are witnessing anti-Hungarian, xenophobic phenomena, such as the desecration of Hungarian-related monuments and hate speech describing members of the small Hungarian minority in Ukraine as enemies of the Ukrainian people. Concern about anti-Semitic incidents has also been reported. Interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk’s support for granting Russian-speaking regions broad rights to run their local affairs is promising. These same rights ought to be granted other minorities, including Hungarians.
The vexing and unresolved question of minority rights goes far beyond Ukraine, of course. But the unfolding events there should finally awaken the international community and the European Union in particular, to the fact that coherent standards of minority rights are long overdue.
A democratic and tolerant Ukraine, for its part, would build on the most effective measures the West comes up with to strengthen the country. A weak, corrupt and intolerant Ukraine, on the other hand, would enable Russia to fish in muddy waters.
The survival of any national minority is to a large extent dependent on its ability to preserve and cultivate its culture, especially its language. National minorities can only do so if they are granted collective rights, including the right to autonomy. While the idea of legal autonomy tends to be met with cool suspicion by governments, it has actually proven to be a successful democratic mechanism where utilized in multi-ethnic European states.
Finland’s enlightened policies toward its small Swedish minority are an example. Although the Swedish minority only comprises 5.8% of the country’s population, Finland’s Constitution declares both Finnish and Swedish as the official languages of the country and provides for the legal equality of both languages.
Autonomy merely grants a minority the right to local self-government and enables its members to preserve their customs, language, religion and social structure, while leaving certain powers to the central state and preserving its territorial integrity. Autonomy for the Hungarian communities in the states neighboring Hungary would be appropriate in light of the sudden and undemocratic nature of the post-War Treaty of Trianon, which forced ethnic Hungarians into newly formed countries.
Ethnic tensions can lead to instability, conflicts and in extreme cases the type of violence we witnessed in the 1990s when Yugoslavia disintegrated. Graham Fuller, the former chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA astutely observed: “We are talking about . . . the willingness of minorities . . . to put up with gross misgovernance in a world rife with talk of democratization, globalization, civil society, nongovernmental organizations, human rights and growing U.N. norms.” In light of this highly aspirational language, Fuller asks, “how long can we expect that minorities will indefinitely accept unacceptable status quos?”
States have also used the pretext of protecting minorities to wage campaigns to further their aggressive designs. This is precisely what occurred in Ukraine this month and in Georgia in 2008 when Russia intervened ostensibly to support a pro-Russian minority.
If the West is serious about forestalling these kinds of crises, it will have to shed its reluctance to support minority rights. Adoption and implementation of well-defined minority rights standards would go a long way toward promoting democracy and defusing conflicts and tensions in multi-ethnic states. The alternative is future instability and armed aggressions perpetrated ostensibly in order to “protect minorities.”
Frank Koszorus, Jr. is an attorney and president of the American Hungarian Federation. He has written widely on the issue of minority rights. - Special thanks to Paprika Politik:
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Paprika Politik describes the quintessentially Hungarian way of life, where global ingredients mix to create local flavors. In this blog, observers of Hungary (both inside and out) will share their thoughts on current politics, economic trends, and the state of society and culture at all levels—ever with a mind to the further development of a free and prosperous post-Communist society in the region.
AHF's Tako Geza Award winner, Dr. Stephen Szilagyi, founded SARA, "Sharing America's Resources Abroad." SARA is a Christian ministry offering medical assistance to improve lives around the world. From humble beginnings, SARA has distributed millions of dollars in medical supplies, services, and medical care, establishing a network of doctors and suppliers ready to assist the needy, many in Transcarpathia Ukraine. [read more]
Healing a Most Painful Division... Although brother and sister have lived in the same village all their lives, Maria Ivan and her brother, Arpad, have been able to hug each other only twice in the past 53 years. As a result of a post-World War II treaty, a barbed wire fence marking borders has divided them.Szelmenc (called Solontsi in Ukrainian and Velke Slemence in Slovak) is found near where the Ukrainian, Slovakian and Hungarian borders meet. After WWII, the Soviets took this part along with half of the village for themselves. The other half was given to Czechslovakia. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Soviet part became part of Ukraine. [read more]
Why so many Hungarians
Across the Border?
A thousand years of nation building successfully delineated groups based on culture, religion, geography, and other attributes to create the countries with which we are so familiar. While some Western European nations would continue power struggles and princely battles and civil wars, Hungary, founded in 896, was a peaceful multi-ethnic state for over a 1000 years and her borders were virtually unchanged.... Until 1920.
"The greatest catastrophe to have befallen Hungary since the battle of Mohacs in 1526," the Treaty of Trianon in 1920, was extremely harsh on Hungary and unjustifiably one-sided. The resulting "treaty" lost Hungary an unprecedented 2/3 of her territory, and 1/2 of her total population or 1/3 of her ethnic-Hungarian population. Add to this the loss of all her seaports, up to 90% of her vast natural resources, industry, railways, and other infrastructure. Millions of Hungarians saw borders arbitrarily redrawn around them, without plebiscites, ignoring President Wilson's lofty goal of national self-determination. The affects of this dictat are felt strongly today throughout the region. Two of the three newly created countries carved out of Hungarian territory no longer exist. "Slovakia" (Upper Hungary) split with the Czech Republic while "Yugoslavia" suffered from civil war and the ravages of ethnic cleansing. This should never have happened. Hungarian populations continue to decline significantly after forced removals such as the Benes Decrees and other pograms, and continued pressure and discriminative policies such as the 2009 Slovak Language Law, the Slovak Citizenship Act which is being used to strip Hungarians of their citizenship and status, and gerrymandering and other practices in Romania and Serbia.
The United States never ratified this treaty. At the time President Wilson said: “The proposal to dismember Hungary is absurd” and later Sir Winston Churchill said: “Ancient poets and theologians could not imagine such suffering, which Trianon brought to the innocent.” We are sad to report that they were right.
[read more] about the Treaty of Trianon
Hungarian populations declined significantly after forced removals such as the Benes Decrees and other pograms, the effects of WWI, and Trianon in 1920. With continued pressure and discriminative policies such as the 2009 Slovak Language Law, the Slovak Citizenship Law, discriminatory practices in Rumania and Serbia, this trend has continued over the past 90 years.
[read more] about the Treaty of Trianon
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