In Ukraine, some ethnic Hungarians feel around the war

TRANSCARPATHIA, Ukraine – Under dark clouds that caused summer rain, officials in a southwestern Ukrainian border village quietly gathered, slowly hanging wreaths from tree branches to commemorate the doom of a country.

The wreaths are not decorated with the yellow and blue colors of the Ukrainian flag; Instead, they are laced with Hungarian red, white and green. And the country they honor this month is not their besieged country, but the homeland from their shared history, which was torn apart more than 100 years ago.

Transcarpathia – now a landmass of Ukraine bordering Hungary – was inhabited by 150,000 Hungarians of Hungarian descent who, through a complex horse trade, conquests and boundary adjustments over a century of locality European politics, finally located within Ukraine’s borders.

Before war with RussiaThe longings of the ethnic Hungarian people in Ukraine are mostly dismissed as a benign nostalgia for the time when they lived in one country with other ethnic Hungarians. Now, divided loyalists in the small community – which had influenced Hungary’s atmosphere over the Russian invasion – are being viewed as more worrisome by their fellow Ukrainians, some of them fear that they are susceptible to pro-Russian propaganda by Hungary.

The ambience that some felt was a reminder of the trouble Hungary’s authoritarian leader, Viktor Orban, can inflict on its neighbours, in this case by tapping into the feelings of discrimination among ethnic Hungarians by their government. And it adds another layer of complexity for Ukraine’s leaders as they try to keep their vast, multi-ethnic country united in the face of a brutal Russian invasion, even as they struggle to win the war. Loyalty from minorities including Russians and Hungarians.

“It’s like being on the football field between two opposing teams,” said David Arpad, a pastor who is leading one of the memorials for his lost homeland Hungary. “We’re at an impasse in the middle of the pitch, because one side is Hungary and the other is Ukraine.”

Hungary and Ukraine were not always rivals. In the last days of the Soviet Union, they were partners in nationalist struggles for more self-determination. Hungary was one of the first countries to recognize Ukraine, in return for the ethnic Hungarians inside Ukraine’s borders the right to preserve their language and culture.

But in recent years, tension has increased as Mr. Orban increasingly sought to bring the ethnic Hungarian regions of Ukraine and elsewhere under his command. Among other things, he encouraged Hungarians to go beyond the country’s borders to claim citizenship, which allowed him to win new voters to keep himself in power.

In this impoverished part of Ukraine, along the Hungarian border, he’s raised funds to run schools, churches, businesses and newspapers, win gratitude – and help fans angry. The funeral ceremony did not exist before Mr. Orban came to power.

The other feeling was heightened when Ukraine, under constant threat from Russia, passed a law mandating more classes in Ukrainian in public schools. The law is primarily intended to curb the use of the Russian language, but for the conservative Hungarian community, where many still study and pray, almost exclusively in Hungarian, the law is seen as an unfair violation of human rights. Constitution.

Amid the villages dotting the green plains beneath the Carpathian Mountains, life has long been a mix of Hungarian and Ukrainian influences. Not even the time of day is certain. For locals, there are always two options to arrange a meeting: Kyiv time or Budapest time.

During the war, kinship with Hungary contributed to the difference as to who was at fault. Despite his country’s membership of the European Union, which firmly sided with Ukraine, Orban – President Vladimir Putin’s closest ally in the bloc – condemned the invasion but tried to avoid harming Mr. Putin. He try to stop European Union sanctions on Russian energy imports, on which Hungary relies. And he refused to supply Ukraine with weapons, or even allow them to be transported across the Hungarian border.

That vigilance has permeated the nationalist Hungarian community, reported by Hungarian TV channels close to Mr Orban’s ruling party broadcasting into Hungarian-Ukrainian homes along the border. Hungarian broadcasters question Ukraine’s position that Russia invades to take Ukraine’s land, sharing Moscow’s view instead that it invades to protect Russian speakers – a linguistic minority other, no different from ethnic Hungarians.

“I think this is the main reason for the war, not what Ukraine says,” said Gyula Fodor, vice-chancellor at the Hungarian Transcarpathian Institute. The institute, a private college, received Hungarian funding, and Mr. Orban attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

As the war dragged on, Orban’s relationship with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky became increasingly icy.

In border towns, suspicion is in the air. Some ethnic Ukrainians have stated in interviews that in the first days of the Russian invasion, Hungarian priests urged the faithful to harbor hope that their region would be annexed to Hungary after Kyiv , the capital of Ukraine, fell, although there is no documentary evidence to support it. those affirmations.

In towns with an ethnic Hungarian majority, some people reported being harassed with mysterious messages in Ukrainian: “Ukraine for Ukrainians. Honor the nation! Die for the enemy! ” They say the messages end with a threat using another word for ethnic Hungarians: “Magyars for the knives.”

Ukrainian intelligence officials openly claimed the texts came from a bot farm in Odesa using Russian software and attributed it to a Russian attempt to destabilize Ukraine, but they offered no evidence.

Tensions in Transcarpathia flared publicly after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014. Right-wing nationalists have marched through the streets of Uzhhorod in recent years, sometimes chanting “Magyars are knives .”

And a Hungarian cultural center in the city of Uzhhorod caught fire twice in 2017. In both cases, authorities said the perpetrators had pro-Russian connections. Dmytro Tuzhnkskyi, director of the Central European Strategy Institute in Uzhhorod, which promotes Ukraine’s links with the West, said he believes Moscow is behind other local provocations. According to him, Moscow wants to sow discord between Hungary and Ukraine as a way to add trouble to the Western alliance that opposes Putin.

He worries that Hungarian and local officials might inadvertently fall prey to such designs: “They might think: One more small provocation – it makes no sense. It was a very dangerous match of wits. ”

However, for many Hungarians, Ukraine is not innocent.

László Zubánics, leader of Ukraine’s Hungarian Democratic Union, said locals watch Hungarian television in part because no Ukrainian cable channels reach the border areas, which he sees as a form of formality. political neglect. But he admits that ethnic Hungarians often choose to tune in to Hungarian, rather than Ukrainian, satellite channels.

Many ethnic Hungarians say they can only afford to stay in the family and farm vineyards because of Hungarian funding. “Most children and parents say, ‘Why do I need a state language? I don’t see my place here in this country. ‘”

Although the Soviet Union repressed and exiled Hungarian nationalists, some ethnic Hungarians began to see Soviet rule as a period of relative cultural freedom. It was a time when Hungarians recall holding prominent official positions, unlike in modern Ukraine, according to Zubánics.

Nostalgia for the Soviet era sparked the fury of local right-wing nationalists like Vasyl Vovkunovich, who had been a political ally of Hungarian nationalists during the last days of the Soviet Union. Shove. In 2017, he said he led a march of supporters down the streets of Berehove, tearing the Hungarian flag that was hoisted over many churches and buildings.

“These Hungarians don’t deserve it,” he said. “Their ancestors would roll in their graves if they knew Hungary was on Russia’s side.”

For locals like Zoltan Kazmér, 32, the present is more complicated. He feels loyal to Ukraine, he said. But it was Hungarian funding that allowed him to turn his family’s centuries-old winemaking tradition into a business.

“When we arrived in Hungary, we felt like Ukrainians,” he said. “When we were in Ukraine, we felt like Hungarians.”

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