Olivér Várhelyi Meets with Minority Leaders in Kyiv

Hungarian organizations in Transcarpathia have two proposals

Olivér Várhelyi, European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy, was in Kyiv to discuss Ukraine’s accession to the European Union. He held consultations with, among others, Speaker of the House Ruslan Stefanchuk, as well as with the leaders of national minorities, including the Cultural Alliance of Hungarians in Sub-Carpathia (KMKSZ) and the Association of Hungarians in Kyiv.  The EU Commissioner acknowledged that Kyiv has made good progress in several of the seven conditions for accession, but further steps are needed in the areas of corruption, money laundering, the fight against oligarchies, and protection of national minorities.

On October 2, as part of his Kyiv program, the EU Commissioner met with representatives from organizations representing the interests of national minorities in Ukraine at the Intercontinental Hotel, where the EU Foreign Ministers’ Forum was also held. The meeting was attended by representatives of Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian, and Polish minority organizations, among others. We, Hungarians, were represented by József Barta, Vice President of KMKSZ, and Gyula Petneházy, President of the Association of Hungarians in Kyiv. During a phone call, we asked József Barta about what was said at the meeting:

“At the meeting, we were joined by representatives of the Romanian, Bulgarian, and Polish minorities, and we were able to explain how we see the situation of our national communities in the current legal environment. Our position was completely in line with that of Gyula Petneházy, which is that we can offer two options to resolve the situation of rights as minorities.

One of the things we have been saying for years is that we are asking for the rights that we had previously, which are constitutional rights, as well as enshrined in Ukraine’s international treaties and commitments. Moreover, they are in line with European standards, about which the Venice Commission has also made proposals. So, we are not asking for anything new, just for the restoration of our rights, specifically in the areas of education, media, and language use, which were previously in place but have been eroded by recent legislation. Várhelyi also confirmed that the European Union also believes that Ukraine should settle these issues in line with the Venice Commission’s proposals.

The other option would also be good for us. On August 2, when Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, visited Beregszász (Berehovo) and met with us, the representatives of the Hungarian minority as well, he made a very important promise. He said that Ukraine is willing to guarantee national minorities living on its territory the same rights as Ukrainian minorities have in their home countries. He specifically referenced Hungary and said that Ukraine would grant Hungarians in Transcarpathia all the rights that Ukrainians have living in Hungary. President Zelensky reiterated this statement on August 23 when he met with Hungarian President Katalin Novák in Kyiv. We have collected information on the rights of national minorities in Hungary, what is guaranteed by the Fundamental Law, the laws and regulations developed on its basis. This solution would also benefit us significantly, granting us a broader range of rights than we enjoyed previously. These are the proposals that we could accept, which I had opportunity to present, and which I also handed in writing to the EU Commissioner in English and Ukrainian. This is what we are asking for; this is what we insist on.

Olivér Várhelyi said that the Ukrainian leadership seems intent on resolving this issue before the serious EU accession negotiations begin.

We are pleased that a working committee has been set up to address the problems in education and that positive progress was made at its meeting in Budapest. We are also pleased that enforcement of Article 7 of the Education Act has been postponed for a year as regards us. This has bought us time, which can be used to resolve the issues that we have been struggling with,” said the KMKSZ vice-president, who added: “We fully support Ukraine’s Euro-integration efforts. We would like to see this happen as soon as possible. At the same time, we insist on preserving of our minority rights, since we consider ourselves to still be Hungarians living in Ukraine. The Hungarian community is fulfilling all its civic obligations; hundreds of Hungarians from Transcarpathia are fighting in the ranks of the Ukrainian army and, unfortunately, we have already had to bury dozens of them. We have welcomed and cared for refugees from Eastern Ukraine and helped organize their lives here. We are helping the regions of Ukraine that are in a much more difficult situation than we are, and those who have had to come to us. So, we are loyal to the authorities in everything; we, the Hungarians of Transcarpathia, are fulfilling our human obligations as well as our civic ones, but we will not stop fighting to regain our rights that were taken away. The Ukrainian political elite should not be condemning us, but trying to understand us, and since there is opportunity to secure the rights we request, they should be guaranteed either through legislative amendments or bilateral agreements,” said József Barta, from Kyiv.

Zsolt Badó

Original Hungarian language article: https://karpataljalap.net/2023/10/03/kisebbsegi-vezetokkel-targyalt-varhelyi-oliver-kijevben

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