In an unprecedented symbolic gesture to Ukraine’s ethnic Hungarian minority, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke a few words in Hungarian during his New Year’s address.
The address was broadcast in the first minutes of the new year and featured Zelensky discussing the lives of typical Ukrainians, the annexation of Crimea by Russia, and the various ethnic minorities living in the country.
He praised the Hungarian minority in Beregszász (Berehovo) near the Hungarian border for “preserving its mother tongue”, a remark which he delivered in Hungarian.
He said all citizens of the country are Ukrainians, who are “neither perfect nor saints, but just people”. He continued by saying, “In our passport, there is no such thing as a good or bad Ukrainian.”
His nod towards the ethnic minorities – including the Hungarian one – was all the more important because in the past the relationship between Hungary and Ukraine was marred by laws that restricted the language and tuition rights of ethnic minorities. Hungary has protested these moves on several forums, even threatening to block a NATO resolution in an effort to protect the rights of Ukraine’s Hungarian minority.
Ukraine has an ethnic Hungarian minority of some 100,000 in the southwestern corner of the country which belonged to Hungary until the end of World War l.
In reaction to Zelensky’s speech, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó issued a statement welcoming the gesture, saying that restoring good neighbourly relations would equally benefit Hungary, Ukraine and the ethnic Hungarian minority there.
“It is an important and nice gesture that the Ukrainian president also spoke Hungarian in his New Year’s address. We also hope that words will soon be followed by deeds and the [Ukrainian] parliament will amend the bill on education and minority languages to restore the previous rights of the Hungarian minority,” the statement said.
Szijjártó added that Hungary is open to high-level dialogue and is also willing to help the bolster the already fast development of the country.
Title image: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (Anadolu Agency/Abdulhamid Hosb)