The US strategy for Ukraine must address the rights of minorities living in Ukraine, László Brenzovics, president of the Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association (KMKSZ), stressed in an open letter to US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which was published on Wednesday, when Biden met with Zelensky in the White House.
In the open letter published by the New York-based Hungarian Human Rights Foundation (HHRF) and the Washington Times, the president of the KMKSZ emphasized that American-Ukrainian cooperation must be based on common universal values, including respect for the fundamental rights of ethnic minorities.
Brenzovics noted that in the first 25 years of Ukraine’s independence gained in 1991, the state guaranteed the fundamental rights of ethnic minorities, including the right to study in their native language and to use minority languages in public affairs. However, according to the Hungarian politician, things changed with the Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014, because after that, the Ukrainian government radically changed its minority policy to counteract the Russian influence in eastern Ukraine. Although, as the president of the KMKSZ writes, these measures are mainly aimed at the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine, the radical restrictions on the use of the native language affect other ethnic groups as well.
The President of the KMKSZ reminds that the laws on education and the state Language severely restrict ethnic minorities in the use of their native language in education. He also recalls that the new Ukrainian law, which came into force on 1 July, restricts the definition of “indigenous” minorities. In addition, the current Ukrainian law on “national communities” is based on vague concepts that restrict rather than protect existing rights.
According to the politician, by mentioning “communities” instead of “minorities”, the draft apparently tries to circumvent Ukraine’s commitments to comply with internationally recognized legal instruments aimed at minorities.
Mr Brenzovics recalled that the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional affairs, of which the United States is a member, had found that Ukraine had failed to ensure the language rights of minorities and proposed measures to ensure adequate levels of education in minority languages in Ukraine.
The Hungarian politician also recalls that the Parliamentary Assembly of the European Council and Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, also called on Ukraine to ensure the rights of national minorities and to ensure that they are not discriminated against. The President of the KMKSZ emphasizes that Ukraine so far has completely ignored the recommendations of the EC.
According to the president of KMKSZ, hate speech and crimes against ethnic minority groups are tolerated in Ukraine. For the past three years, as Brenzovics recalls, ultranationalist groups set fire to the KMKSZ office, displayed billboards with pictures of Hungarian community leaders, and operated a website listing the addresses of Hungarian community leaders and referring to them as “Enemies of Ukraine”, all with impunity.
According to Brenzovics, the Ukrainian authorities also intimidate the Hungarian minority. He recalls that last year, on false accusations, armed commandos held raids in Hungarian minority institutions in Transcarpathia. The president of the KMKSZ believes that Zelensky deliberately encouraged anti-Hungarian sentiments by comparing the Hungarian ethnic community to the situation in the Donetsk Basin, while “he knew well that this comparison was absurd”.
“National minorities in Ukraine are not newcomers, this region has been our homeland for more than a thousand years. As Hungarians in Transcarpathia, we do not want special or privileged treatment. We don’t want to be labelled as enemies of the state, we have always been loyal to Ukraine. We just want to be recognized as an indigenous national minority, which we are, so that we can preserve our language and cultural identity and work as equal citizens with the majority population in order to achieve a successful future for Ukraine,” Brenzovics said.
U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States must be able to pursue a foreign policy based on both national interests and human rights principles, the KMKSZ president recalled. According to Brenzovics, this means that with regard to Ukraine the United States must insist on equal treatment and respecting the rights of ethnic minorities.