A New York Times journalist allegedly spent a week in Transcarpathia to study the situation of the Transcarpathian Hungarians and the separatism reported by the Ukrainian state. He made interviews with many people, including the one that was recorded at our institute. The “objective” US reporter asked us not to publish it on the internet. He then wrote the article, but unfortunately, many basic ideas have not been included, so we would like to add what has been left out of the article, as well as to publish the interview.
We know that it will not get to the readers of the New York Times, but we really hope that through Facebook and the media, if it appears in Hungarian, Ukrainian and English, it will get to the embassies of the NATO and EU states accredited in Ukraine.
The introduction to the article and the first question addressed to us was surprising:
“How could it happen that on September 1, at the show of the Hungarian State Opera in Berehove, three thousand people stood silently during the Ukrainian anthem, and then sang the Hungarian anthem?” This behavior was defined by the journalist as a “striking display of discordant allegiances.” Unfortunately, our thoughts on this matter have not been included in the article so we are explaining it here.
There are reasons for this, and they are due to the history of the region.
Today’s Transcarpathia was a part of Hungary from 895 to 1920. After 1920 it was annexed to Czechoslovakia, and in 1938, according to the Vienna Decree, the mainly Hungarian-inhabited areas of the region (along the Uzhgorod-Mukachevo-Berehove line) were passed from Czechoslovakia to Hungary. A few months later, after the disintegration of Czechoslovakia, all of Transcarpathia was returned to Hungary (mid-March 1939). In October 1944, the Soviet troops occupied Transcarpathia and after the Second World War, according to the Czechoslovak -Soviet Pact it became a part of the Soviet Union and remained such until 1991. In 1991, Ukraine gained independence and the region became part of Ukraine. The Hungarians of Transcarpathia have, despite their will, not been a part of their native country for more than a hundred years. In the twentieth century, they found themselves in other countries every twenty to forty years and no one ever asked them if they wanted to be citizens of each particular state. Each state wanted to change their identity immediately, to make them Czechoslovakian, Soviet-Russian or Soviet-Ukrainian, then Ukrainian, and they were expected to sing the anthem of the new state in a language they had never heard before and did not understand. Moreover, during this period the region had two or three nationalanthems: Czechoslovak, Slovak and Ruthenian in the Czechoslovakian era, Soviet and Soviet Ukrainian in the Soviet era. It is humanly impossible to change the national identity in every generation. The Transcarpathian Hungarians, on the other hand, have honored the anthems of each state they lived in, but they sing the Hungarian one because it is not an anthem of a state, but of the scattered Hungarian nation, the anthem of every Hungarian, as well as the Israeli anthemis the anthem of all Jews. Moreover, the Hungarian anthem is not a martial song, it is not abouta state, but it is a prayer begging for a nation, so it is included in Hungarian religious song books (Hungarian Reformed Song Book: praise no. 346, Catholic: 243, Evangelical: without numbering). It is being sung as a universal Christian song, also called the “National Prayer”, which is not necessarily accompanied by music, because all Hungarians all over the world know it, as they know the prayer Our Father. By the way, the Jewish anthem is also part of the Reformed Youth Songbook, however not with the same text as the Jews sing it (Song no. 257 in the Songbook of the Transcarpathian Reformed Youth Organization) and it is also played at a number of occasions. As for the singing of the Hungarian anthem, it was strange for the guest that everybody was singing it, but it did not occur to him that there were hundreds of Ukrainians who did not sing the Ukrainian anthem. I do not think that this phenomenon is a more striking display of discordant allegiances than what we experienced in Transcarpathia two months ago. The US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marya Yovanovich, in Transcarpathia, where she wanted to learn about the opinionof the Hungarian minority on the new education law, was wearing a Ukrainian national ribbon on her wrist in Berehove, and in Uzhgorod.
The following paragraph made it clear that this article was not about the Hungarians living here, and our situation was only an excuse for the journalist to say about Viktor Orbán that he was the cause of everything because he opened “Pandora’s box” by giving citizenship to “Ukrainians”. The journalist has “forgotten” to inform the American reader who is not familiar with the history of Europe about some historical facts. Hungary gives passports to those individuals whose ancestors were once Hungarian citizens and did not voluntarily deny their nationality, but became citizens of other countries because of the changing borders. So they do not give passports to Ukrainians, but to Ukrainian citizens, irrespective of their ethnicity, who ask for their citizenship to be restored and can prove that their ancestors were Hungarian citizens and who speak Hungarian at least at a basic level. The fact that these people are in such a situation, is due to the international decision-makers who have had a major role in this, not only Viktor Orbán, but according to the article, all this happened because Hungary was on the wrong side in both wars. A reader who is not familiar with history does not know that many countries received former parts of Hungary; some of them were on the same side as Hungary, for example, Austria, which was on the same side all along, even at the end of the war.
“Pandora’s box” was opened by the Ukrainian legislature by adopting the law on education which contradicts the Ukrainian Constitution, previously adopted Ukrainian laws, international and bilateral conventions. For example, the 1992 Ukrainian-Hungarian Cooperation Agreement, in which Ukraine guarantees to provide and expand the acquired rights of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine, recognizes the territorial unity of Ukraine, that is, it does not claim border revisions. Ukraine violated this agreement by the educational law adopted on September 5, 2017: the acquired rights of the Hungarian minority living in Ukraine were severely restricted. This move of Ukraine can be interpreted as politically terminating the cooperation agreement between the two countries.
As for the documents providing Hungarian citizenship issued at the Hungarian Consulate that was recorded on hidden camera by the secret service this matter raises several questions. On the one hand, the consulate, as the consulate of any other country, belongs to the country it represents, hence this consulate is the territory of Hungary. All over the world, all missions/consulates have the task of issuing the country’s documents, including passports, in a procedure allowed by that particular country. The Ukrainians do so in Hungary. If anyone receives citizenship in their native country, it is their personal affair, as the Constitution of Ukraine does not prohibit it, there is no statutory regulation, only political claims. In Ukraine, many people have dual citizenship, their number is more than a million (Polish, Russian, Romanian, Israeli, even citizenship of the USA). The Ukrainian Minister of Healthcare, for example, came from the United States and there is no public information about her resignation from US citizenship, although she may have access to confidential information in her position, which could endanger the security of Ukraine. Most of the deputies in the Parliament are dual citizens, which has been announced on numerous occasions, so we are surprised that only Hungarians are the ones being questioned about this.
In Transcarpathia, it is natural that the people living here have special consciousness due to the many changes of state borders, everyone who lives here feels closely attached to this region, and within that has a firm national affiliation. The emergence of a country-specific identity would require not a decade or two, but a lot more time and more attention from the central government. Kiev supports Transcarpathia the least, only requiring that the population obey the laws, but hardly contributes to the development of the region.
Within the “Road Experiment”, a road-financing project, which has been operating in Transcarpathia since 2017 and its point is that 50% of the customs duties paid above the planned amount must be spent to improve the region’s road network, the money has not arrived. Unlike the other regions of Ukraine, there are 10 border crossings in Transcarpathia, which connect EU countries with Ukraine, so there are most border crossing points here. In 2017, only 362 million UAH were returned from the center for road repair, which is 107 million less than expected. Meanwhile, in the direction of Lviv region, this program has been operating since 2015 and 2.5 billion UAH has been received, which is nearly ten times more. As for the amount of investment to Transcarpathia, the region receives 1.3% of the national investments, while the neighboring Lviv region receives 5.4%. The amount of medical and educational transfers to Transcarpathia is 2.8% of the overall Ukrainian transfers, while for Lviv it is 5.6%. From the State Regional Development Fund, Transcarpathia received 1.4% of the investments between 2015 and 2017, while Ternopil region received – 47.1% of the transfers paid from the Fund, i.e. 44 times more than Transcarpathia.
The American journalist who asked us to speak Russian because he could not speak Ukrainian found out from the inhabitants of our city that: “The town of Berehove, like the audience at the opera, is made up largely of ethnic Hungarians who mostly speak Hungarian, not Ukrainian, which many do not speak at all, and set their watches according to the time in Hungary, not Ukraine, which is an hour ahead”.
The town of Berehove is indeed mainly made up of ethnic Hungarians, but it is only partially true that not everyone speaks Ukrainian, and there are reasons for this. Hungarians and non-Hungarians in Transcarpathia began their education in the twentieth century according to the laws and rules of one country, and completed their education in another country, because the borders were changed without their consent. The middle-aged generation, thus, speaks mostly Russian,a part of the older population speaks German, Czech, Slovak, some of the young speak Ukrainian or a mix of Ukrainian and Russian, because they began studying Russian, and suddenly they were asked to switch to Ukrainian. So far, the Ukrainian state has done close to nothing to teach their language to us, even Ukrainian-Hungarian dictionaries cannot be bought in stores because no financing was provided from the state budget. Ukrainian TV broadcast signal cannot be accessed in most regions inhabitedby the Hungarians.
As far as the time is concerned, the observation of the author is interesting for several reasons. On the one hand, why would a person who comes from the country where individual rights are truly protected be disturbed by how we set up our watches, and on the other hand, if nobody here can speak a language other than Hungarian, how did he find out that they use the expression “Hungarian time”? If he spoke Hungarian, he might have read about it in the paper based on the Tandem sociological research, in which it is stated that in Transcarpathia, in addition to the Hungarians, half of the non-Hungarians also use the Central European time, also referred to as “local time” and this is not due to political reasons. Everyone is proud of the fact that the geographical center of Europe is in Transcarpathia, a column indicating this is considered to be a Ukrainian tourist attraction.
This proves that geographically Transcarpathia is a part of the Central European time zone, and the local population has lived in it as well, as the sun rises and rests, for centuries. The political aspect of time was introduced by the Soviet Union. As a means of building up the Soviet system, offices, schools, and workplaces were ordered to operate in the Moscow time zone, which was two hours ahead of the local time. The population had to accept this, but they could not adapt their sense of reality to the political decision; despite the fact that they had to start work at 9 am in Moscow time, it was only 7 am according to the position of the sun. This was not easy, so because of their sense of reality they set their watches to the local, i.e. Central European time, and added 2 hours when they were asked about the time in Russian. By the way, in the Soviet regime, the Moscow time was official in Ukraine as well, although Ukraine belonged to a different time zone, where the sun rose an hour earlier than in Moscow. When Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union, there was a short period of time in the country when the offices and the people lived according to the natural time zones. Beyond theVeretske pass up to Kyiv, people lived according to the same time zone as Romania, while in Transcarpathia the local time, that is, Central European time was used. Then, Ukraine followed the Soviet example, politicized time by claiming that they could not set up the timetable for trains and planes with different time zones, and following the Soviet-Communist pattern, introduced the Kyiv time, which is now one hour ahead of the local time. The Transcarpathians continue to live in the time zone they used to live in, so their watches are set accordingly, and it is not difficult for them to subtract one hour from office schedules. By using the expression “Hungarian time” does the author of the article suggest that “Hungarian time” is used almost all over Europe, including Belgium, Brussels, Slovakia, Bratislava and Poland, Warsaw? This statement is also odd to the reader because it seems as if the reporter who is sowell-informed about matters regarding Transcarpathia is unaware of the multiple time zones in the USA; we do not intend to suggest that he was being deliberately misleading to misinform the American readers.
The article mentions that a group of young individuals appeared in the town and removed the Hungarian national flag from the town hall while the other three were left intact. Although the journalist expresses his opinion on a number of questions, he describes it as a fact that he Hungarian national flag was torn down and burned. He forgot to explain that two of the four flags hanging on the front wall of the town hall (Ukrainian state, European, Hungarian, and themunicipality flag) are national flags, so why exactly was one of them torn down and burned? Why were these flags put up there in the first place? If Ukraine is not yet a member of the EU, then why is the EU flag exhibited as well? He did not even inquire about the reasons the Hungarian flag if there on the facade of the town hall. If the journalist had been so observant in this matter as in the other questions, he would have noticed that this information is displayed at the entrance: in Ukraine the use of Hungarian national symbols, including the use of the flag,is guaranteed by the constitution and other laws, and regulations. He did not draw the conclusion that the young people had violated the law and humiliated the national symbol of a minority living here. He did not ask whether this act had a legal consequence, whether anyone was held accountable for it. He did not even inquire about our opinion on this matter. We are sorry about this, because we would have told him that unfortunately the flag is not the only Hungarian symbol that was damaged during the last decade. It has become almost regular that the statue of Petőfi in Berehove was broken and damaged; historic memorial plaques were painted, the statue of Virgin Mary in the chapel of the Roman Catholic church was destroyed, not to mention the destruction of Hungarian national symbols in other cities and villages in the region. If he had asked about this, we would have told him that none of the vandals have been found and prosecuted, though the law enforcement is able to do its work properly if it wishes to. For example, when the flag of the radical party Svoboda was torn off from the wall of the office of the peaceful former teacher and shopkeeper (which also serves as the local office of that Ukrainian right-wingparty), the vandal was immediately found and convicted (he is still serving his sentence). If he had known this, he would have wondered whether the rules of law were selective, because there are two methods of punishment for the same act, there are some people and there areothers, which is almost Orwellian, and a double standard.
All this was said to the author by the participant and local organizer of the demonstration. He forgot to mention that those were not peaceful demonstrations, and that they took place not only in Berehove, but also in Uzhgorod. There were demonstrations where the participants shouted “Stick a knife in the Hungarians!” They are aggressive, most of them hide their faces, and in the minds of the Hungarians living here, they unintentionally remind of the protests against Jews that took place 100-150 years ago in several towns of Ukraine. When a minority is opposed to such protests, everybody condemns it no matter whether they live in the US or elsewhere, but the author had no opinion about it.
The article states that the most significant support from the Hungarian state in the city was received by the Ferenc Rákóczi II Transcarpathian Hungarian Institute, which is a fact. The Hungarian community in Transcarpathia is grateful that the institution has been maintained because it does not receive any support from the Ukrainian state, but the laws on Ukrainian state institutions are requested to be obeyed by the institute. For example, the state determines who can be admitted and what curriculum should be used. Besides, the students of the institution, regardless of the specialization they choose, must pass a Ukrainian-language exam, which is obligatory even for students of Hungarian studies. This means that there are around 1200 students in the city who speak Ukrainian well and even have a certificate issued by the Ukrainian state, not to mention the staff of the institution, so the assumption of the article is not correct. As for the report made with us, the author does not quote that the institute is the largest taxpayer in the town of Berehove, which means that the largest part of the maintenance of Ukrainian state institutions in the city is directly due to the college, indirectly to the Hungarian state via its foundations.
Berehove, October 15, 2018
Ildikó Orosz, rector of the Ferenc Rákóczi II Transcarpathian Hungarian Institute
Gyula Fodor, deputy rector of the Ferenc Rákóoczi II Transcarpathian Hungarian Institute for International Relations and Accreditation