The visit of the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba to Budapest and the meeting there with the Foreign Minister of Hungary Peter Siarto became a serious event for Ukraine in recent times. Negotiations with the state, which is blocking a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the highest level and states that it is ready to oppose Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration, are evidence of the Ukrainian authorities’ intentions to change the situation for the better.
Following the meeting, the Foreign Ministers of Ukraine and Hungary signed two documents: a protocol amending the framework agreement between the governments of the two countries on the provision of loans on the terms of related assistance and a memorandum of understanding between the State Agency for Energy Efficiency and Energy Saving of Ukraine and the Ministry of Innovation and Technology of Hungary.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine also informed that the parties discussed issues of investment, cooperation in curbing of coronavirus, resumption of work, as well as the development of border infrastructure, and more.
At the same time, obviously, the most interesting moments are still behind the scenes. In particular, the discussing issues related to the Ukrainian laws on education and language, which, in fact, became the basis for tensions in bilateral relations.
During a post-negotiation press conference, Siarto said that Hungary did not seek to support the blocking of the Ukrainian issue in NATO, but did so in order to reach agreements that would be acceptable to Hungarians in Zakarpattia region.
According to him, “Today we received a proposal, a draft decision so that we approve a joint declaration that will show us the way of future cooperation”. Therefore, in June, the intergovernmental commissions of the two countries – the Economic Commission for the Protection of National Minorities and the Commission on Education – will begin to develop solutions that can be made by the Hungarians of Zakarpattia region and that would be acceptable to the Ukrainian Government.
At the same time, Dmytro Kuleba stated: “We must turn this page, we must find all solutions that are beneficial to our countries, and continue to support each other in all possible formats. We hope that Hungary’s full support will be restored for Ukraine in NATO“.
It is noteworthy that the Ukrainian Minister arrived in Budapest by car, as there are no flights between the countries due to quarantine restrictions.
“Since last year, Hungary has sent a number of signals that Budapest is ready to talk to official Kyiv. As far as I know, the main signals came literally during the last month. It was said that there may even be interest on the part of Hungary in organizing a meeting (of the presidents of the countries – ed.) Of Orban and Zelensky. Orban has repeatedly publicly expressed certain compliments towards Zelensky, and here the preconditions for warming relations do exist. So as soon as there was a real opportunity to negotiate at the level of Foreign Ministers, Kuleba arrived. After all, Hungary is the main stumbling block in our relations with European and Euro-Atlantic structures,” said the political scientist Konstyantyn Bondarenko.
He thinks, that the Hungarian government is playing its own game, but it is interested in deepening cooperation with Ukraine, in the active economic cooperation.
At the same time, according to the expert of international issues Taras Chornovil, Kuleba’s current visit to Hungary is not justified by any serious changes in Ukrainian-Hungarian relations, and nothing special has happened in this direction recently. “Last year, when Volodymyr Putin came to Budapest and the Hungarian authorities showed him their full loyalty, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry had a real opportunity to use this moment to strengthen its position in bilateral relations, but it did not happen,” said the expert.
At the same time, the visit of the Foreign Minister of Ukraine may indicate the possible preparation of the Ukrainian authorities for serious concessions on both the language law and the law on education. According to Chornovil, all disputes with Hungary could be resolved by amending the final provisions of these laws. However, given the latest statement by Verkhovna Rada Speaker Dmytro Razumkov about the need to change the language law, it is possible that the authorities are ready to make serious concessions and completely rewrite the laws, betraying of national interests. And in this context, according to the expert, the danger is not so much that the demands of the Hungarian side will be taken into account, but that under the guise of such changes in the Ukrainian legislation can be introduced rules that are most beneficial to the Kremlin.
Meanwhile, many draw attention to the fact that Ukraine, having certain problems in relations with Hungary, should, against this background, care more about the realization of the rights of ethnic minorities, to give their representatives the opportunity to be realized in Ukraine. It is no secret that in the villages of the Zakarpattia region, where Hungarians live compactly, few people speak Ukrainian, which, in fact, closes the young prospects to get an education or build a career in Ukraine. That is why young people go either to Hungary or to other European countries.
“In Zakarpattia, there is a problem with learning the Ukrainian language, we know this well. There is an understaffing of schools with teachers of Ukrainian language and literature, and we need to address this issue, we need to stimulate the study of the state language by a minority. We need to create all the conditions so that our citizens do not go to study abroad immediately after graduating from school. Such people are almost lost for Ukraine, because they settle there, abroad. This fully applies to Hungarians. We need to encourage young people to be interested in staying, working, living, and starting families in Ukraine,” said Maryna Stavniychuk, Honored Lawyer of Ukraine.
According to her, although the Hungarian side pursues a rather aggressive, pragmatic state policy towards Ukraine, in particular, we need to raise the issue of how the rights of Ukrainians are protected in Hungary. All actions on the part of Ukraine must be calm, balanced, and reasonable, and here it is necessary to add fewer politics and some crisis things to these processes, which can immediately provoke a conflict.
“It is very important and positive that Mr. Kuleba met with his Hungarian counterpart because many issues have accumulated between our countries that need to be resolved. It is extremely important for us that the Hungarian minority living in Zakarpattia has the opportunity to learn and know the state language. On the other hand, it is equally important that minorities be guaranteed linguistic and cultural rights related to national development. I think that Ukraine and Hungary (with a reasonable approach) have every opportunity to ensure the right balance and find a common language,” Stavniychuk said.
It is clear that so far the parties have taken only the first steps towards an understanding, but they are the ones who give hope that Ukraine can reduce the number of problematic issues in the foreign policy direction in the near future. The main thing is not to forget about your own interests and to defend them as much as possible in relations with partners.