Mr. Gyöngyösi, European politicians have spoken out in support especially of the Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia region but also in support of the rights of all national minorities in Ukraine. What is your reaction?
Gyöngyösi: I am very happy and thankful that this important topic is getting more and more awareness in Europe. But the official EU institutions and Brussels are still turning a blind eye to it.
How is the situation in Transcarpathia region today?
Gyöngyösi: We have experienced within the last year the depreciation of basic human rights of national and ethnic minorities in Ukraine since the so-called Maidan. Before the Maidan there was a language law in Ukraine which was fitting to European standards, although it was even then not 100 percent implemented. But it could have been a good base for a dialogue. But the recent language laws submitted to the Rada in Kiev simply show that Ukraine doesn’t even want to comply with international obligations.
Kiev and Brussels both want to get Ukraine closer with the EU. Shouldn´t the topic of national minorities and autonomy rights be discussed?
Gyöngyösi: Western countries are trying to reach out to Ukraine and trying to integrate Kiev into the Western sphere of influence. But what we can see is that Ukraine is ignoring all international laws and any international charter which secure the rights of national and ethnic minorities. This is outrageous. And it is also outrageous that the European community has absolutely nothing to say about this! It is a non-topic in Brussels.
You just came back from a PACE meeting in Paris where minority rights in Ukraine were also discussed…
Gyöngyösi: I have to make clear it was an afternoon meeting of the cultural committee. There was a report discussed with the title “The protection and promotion of regional and minority languages in Europe” which has been drafted by the Hungarian MP Rosza Hoffmann from the Fidesz party. This draft is asking the members of the Council of Europe for nothing else other than to consider the European Charta for regional and minority languages. This Charta has been adopted decades ago as a recommendation for implementation. What was very strange for me, was that two Ukrainian members of the committee were absolutely outraged and in opposition to even negotiate the subject. The irony of all that is that the Ukrainian members of course used the topic for an anti-Russian statement, as if it has only to do with the Russian speaking population in Ukraine. But one MP who objected to the report fiercely was speaking Russian himself – and not Ukrainian. That was really strange…
When it comes to the Crimean Tatars, Kiev is very vocal about their rights and even proposed an autonomous state for them – of course because of geopolitical reasons: Crimea has been part of the Russian Federation since 2014. But why doesn’t Kiev propose the same rights for other national minorities such as the Hungarians? Are the Hungarians a “second class minority”?
Gyöngyösi: Absolutely! We should consider the fact that Hungarians have been living in Transcarpathia for more than a 1000 years. They can be considered as an historical, indigenous population there, who haven’t moved an inch. These Hungarians were always respected as having a Hungarian identity in the past. They were speaking their language and they had their own schools. They were always allowed to use their mother tongue. So what is happening to us now, done by Kiev, is something which didn’t happen throughout our whole troubled history. This is something terribly new for us.
How do you see the calls for autonomy and the reaction of the Kiev government?
Gyöngyösi: If Ukraine doesn’t recognize that it is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multinational entity, and if Ukraine continues with this extremely arrogant, cynical and childish attitude, which is in the 21st century completely unacceptable, then the Ukrainian politicians themselves are going to dig the grave of Ukraine as a nation state. If Kiev doesn´t accept the realities and gives its minorities the right of their cultural autonomy then in the long term the Ukrainian state will disintegrate and fall apart.
Then why is the Ukrainian leadership not doing those necessary steps?
Gyöngyösi: I do see the logic of Kiev. The political elite in Ukraine is busy with inventing their own nationhood right now. And the shortest possible way doing that is simply by depriving every other ethnicity of its rights and pretending that Ukrainian is the only language spoken in Ukraine and that the Ukrainian people are the only legitimate ethnicity. But history has shown that this type of strategy can never work. It will be extremely harmful for Kiev itself. If the Hungarians have managed to stay there for more than 1000 years regardless of the Tatars, the Turks or the Habsburgs invading the region, then we can already say now: It won´t be the Hungarians who are going to suffer in long term from that type of Kiev politics. It will be the Ukrainian nation in the first place.