While Hungarian minorities are intimidated, European institutions remain silent

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Following Ukraine’s SBU launching a criminal investigation against local councillors of the town of Syurte for singing the Hungarian national anthem alongside the Ukrainian one after a meeting, the Hungarian government has condemned the government’s persecution of the Hungarian minority in the country.
“The Ukrainian intelligence services have stayed true to themselves: they have launched an investigation against Hungarian councillors because they have sung the anthem after a council meeting… The Ukrainian state wants European integration in words only. In truth, they evoke methods reminding us of the darkest hours of Soviet times for the intimidation of their citizens” wrote Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó.
The Hungarian minorities in the case have been charged with treason, violating the territorial integrity of the country, and for falsifying documents. In what is seen as the latest example of authorities’ attempting to intimidate and persecute its Hungarian minority in the Sub-Carpathian region, there are also questions raised about Europe’s silence on the issue.
The criminal investigation comes as the latest development in a series of incidents, in which authorities have raided a number of minority cultural institutions and educational centers, accompanied by anonymous death threats and multiple arson attacks. A draconian piece of legislation prohibiting the use of languages of national minorities in education, public life and culture introduced in 2017, has also been strongly criticized home and abroad .
In recent days, letters have been sent to Hungarian institutions and community leaders containing death threats and calling for the expulsion of members of minorities from the country: “You have one week to leave the country. Otherwise, you will be poisoned like rats. You are our hostages” read the anonymous message. AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh In this Friday, Oct. 19, 2018 photograph, farmers from the Hungarian minority in Ukraine attend a ceremony distributing agricultural subsidies from the Hungarian government in Beherove, Ukraine. A new education law that could practically eliminate the use of Hungarian and other minority languages in schools after the 4th grade is just one of several issues threatening this community of 120,000 people. Many are worried that even as Ukraine strives to bring its laws and practices closer to European Union standards, its policies for minorities seem to be heading in a far more restrictive direction. The instigators of the latest incidents are thought to be members of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, Vitalij Bezhin and Oleksandr Kornyijenko, who have allegedly requested the SBU to investigate the events at the October council meeting in Syurte.
Zelensky, a former comedian, who came to power in 2019 on a strong anti-establishment and anti-corruption platform, has projected a youthful and Bohemian image, which had won him the youth vote and the sympathy of those who hoped for a resolution to the political and territorial conflicts tearing Ukraine apart. However, the new president has mostly rejected outreach and reconciliation. His party has been bleeding voters since they have assumed power, and in the October regional elections, they have lost most of their councils to local candidates.
As a result of their hardline stance on Russia and the conflict in the east of the country, they were seen as increasingly reliant on radical ultra-nationalists, favoring the suppression of the language and identity of minorities currently living in Ukraine.
As a sign of discontent among the majority population as well, the brutal persecution of minorities has also been condemned by Ukrainian members of the Transcarpathian District Council, calling it a provocation and political pressure.
“It is shocking how far the government is willing to go in order to put their own people at the top of the district council,” they said on their webpage.
Europe is slow to react when it comes to the Hungarian minority
“The Council of Europe must call on Ukraine to fulfil its obligations stemming from its membership in the organization and to refrain from threats against the Hungarian community,” wrote Zsolt Németh, leader of the Hungarian delegation in the CE. However, European leaders have been slow to react to the undemocratic developments in Ukraine, let alone condemn attacks on its minority communities. The leaders of the country — which has been trying to become a member of the European Union and NATO — have been encouraged by the silence from Brussels which given them freer reign to intimidate and oppress citizens without any international political consequences.
Ukraine’s leaders also appear to be exploiting their status as a buffer between Europe and Russia to implement their ultra-nationalist policies with impunity. At the same time, they seem to have interpreted the political discord between Brussels and the Hungarian government as an opportunity for political point-scoring on their own. The continued delay in any notable disapproval from Brussels may have temporarily vindicated the Ukrainian government’s strategy.
This strategy mimics that of the Romanian government, that had often used the anti-Hungarian card that not only plays well with radical segments of their own population, but seems to be tolerated by the EU’s elite in order to portray the Hungarian government as one unable to protect its minorities abroad. Protests of Hungarian minority representatives against provocations such as the desecration of a military cemetery in Valea Uzului, in Eastern-Romania, continue to fall on deaf ears in European institutions that are otherwise quick to condemn human rights violations in other parts of the world.

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