September 1, 2021

Expanded cooperation with Ukraine should include minority rights:

Message from the leader of the Hungarian minority to Presidents Biden and Zelensky.

Read the text in the Washington Times here.

On September 1st, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will meet President Biden at the White House to discuss ways to expand strategic cooperation between Ukraine and the U.S. This cooperation, however, must be based on shared universal values – including respect for the fundamental rights of ethnic minorities.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union 30 years ago, Ukraine has been an independent, multiethnic country. The largest minority are the Russians, but there are significant communities of ethnic Bulgarians, Hungarians, Poles, Romanians, and others such as the Crimean Tatars.

For the first 25 years of its recent independence, Ukraine ensured the fundamental rights of ethnic minorities: the right to be educated in their native language and, within reasonable limits, to use minority languages in public affairs.

However, things changed in 2014, with Russia’s annexation of Crimea. To counteract Russian influence in eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian government radically changed its minority policy. While these measures primarily target the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine, the radical restrictions on native language use have devastated other ethnic groups, too.

  • Since 2017, new laws on education and the state language severely restrict ethnic minorities in using and studying in their native language.
  • As of July 1, 2021, a new law limits the definition of ‘indigenous’ minorities. The law not only contravenes common sense, but is also highly discriminatory. While certain indigenous peoples are recognized, the Bulgarians, Hungarians, Romanians, and Poles—and of course, the Russians – are not recognized, nor are their language rights.
  • The current draft Law on National Communities, too, is built upon vague concepts that limit rather than protect existing rights. Instead of ‘minorities,’ it talks about “communities” – an apparent bid to evade Ukraine’s existing commitments to internationally recognized minority rights instruments.

The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe in which the U.S. is represented, established that Ukraine has failed to ensure the linguistic rights of minorities, and recommended that Ukraine implement measures to ensure a sufficient level of teaching in minority languages. The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly and the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy called on Ukraine to ensure the rights and non-discrimination of national minorities. So far, Ukraine has completely ignored the Council of Europe recommendations.

Hate speech and hate crimes against ethnic minority groups continue to be tolerated. Over the past three years, ultra-nationalist groups set fire to the office of the Cultural Alliance of Hungarians in Subcarpathia; posted ‘stop the separatists’ billboards with photos of Hungarian community leaders, including me; and run a website that lists the addresses of ethnic Hungarian community leaders, branding them ‘enemies of Ukraine’ – all with impunity.

Ukrainian authorities themselves also intimidate the Hungarian minority. Last year, based on false charges, armed security commandos raided several Hungarian minority institutions in Subcarpathia. President Zelensky has intentionally encouraged anti-Hungarian sentiment, publicly comparing the Hungarian ethnic community to the situation in the Donetsk Basin – knowing full well that the comparison is absurd.

National minorities in Ukraine are not new arrivals; this region has been our home for more than a thousand years. As Hungarians in Subcarpathia, we do not want special or privileged treatment. We do not want to be labeled as enemies of the state; we have always been loyal to Ukraine. We only want to be recognized as the indigenous national minority we are; to preserve our language and cultural identity; and to work together with the majority population as equals to ensure a successful future for Ukraine.

President Biden has said that the United States should be able to ‘walk and chew gum at the same time’ – that is, to implement a foreign policy based on both national interest and principles of human rights. In engaging with Ukraine, this means that the U.S. must also insist upon respect for the rights and equal treatment of ethnic minorities.

________________________

László Brenzovics is president of the Cultural Alliance of Hungarians in Subcarpathia, which represents the 150,000-strong ethnic Hungarian minority in Ukraine. Born in 1964, in the village of Zápszony, Ukraine, he holds a doctorate in history and has been active in local and national community affairs since 1990.


August 30, 2021

HHRF Statement

Minorities in Ukraine: Questions to Ask President Zelensky

The upcoming White House meeting between Presidents Biden and Zelenskywill focus on expanded strategic cooperation between the U.S. and Ukraine. Yet little attention is paid to the fact that the rights of Ukraine’s minorities have been continually eroded since 2014.

To counteract Russian influence in eastern Ukraine following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the government of Ukraine radically changed its minority policy. As a result, the ethnic Bulgarian, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian and Crimean Tatar minorities, among others, have become collateral damage.

To ensure stability, any viable foreign policy strategy and bilateral relationship must stress universal values, including fundamental human and minority rights.

We urge President Biden, State Department officials, Members of Congress and the media to vigorously address the neglected issue of minority rights and pose these vital four questions:1. Why do Ukrainian authorities continue to tolerate, rather than condemn hate speech and hate crimes against ethnic minority groups?

  • In 2018, ultra-nationalist groups set fire to the office of the Cultural Alliance of Hungarians in Sub-Carpathia.
  • Overnight, billboards also appeared, with photos of community leaders branded as “separatists” in the region, which is home to the 150,000-strong Hungarian minority.
  • The still-functioning extremist Myrotvorets website, which has evident ties to government officials, listed the addresses of ethnic Hungarian community leaders and branded them as “enemies of Ukraine.”
  • In November 2020, in a politically motivated intimidation campaign, armed security commandos raided a home and several Hungarian minority institutions.
  • In May 2021, graffiti appeared warning ethnic Hungarians to leave the country lest they or “be poisoned like rats.”

2. Why does the new law, adopted  July 1, 2021, fail to recognize the Bulgarians, Hungarians, Romanians, Russians and Poles as ‘indigenous’ minorities?
On numerous occasions, the Council of Europe’s advisory Venice Commission, among others, has told Ukraine that it is unacceptable to establish different levels and degrees for the rights of persons belonging to national minorities versus indigenous peoples. Despite Ukrainian assertions to the contrary, the new law does not meet the ILO definition of “indigenous”, as nowhere does Convention 169 establish lack of a kin-state as part of this definition, yet this is precisely what the Ukrainian law hinges upon.1 The clear intent of the law is to circumvent the established minority rights of the affected communities.

3. Why does your government ignore objections by NATO, Council of Europe, Venice Commission, and European Union to the latest updates to the Laws on Education and the State Language, which further restrict native language education and use of minority languages in public administration?2
The two updated versions of prior laws rescind and curtail rights granted in the prior 25 years and have a devastating impact on the cultural survival of Ukraine’s smaller national minorities.

4. Why does the recent draft law, intended to replace the law on national minorities in force since 1992, omit the very term “minority” from its title?
Hungarian minority representatives have pointed out that the current draft Law on National Communities is unconstitutional and possibly a bid to evade Ukraine’s commitments to international minority rights instruments, by using the non-legally binding term “communities” instead of “minorities”. Since the draft law ignores the recommendations submitted by the affected minorities, the parliament should now at least consider the proposed amendments recently submitted by national minorities.

For additional details see letters from László Brenzovics and the president of the Hungarian Teachers Association of Subcarpathia to President Zelensky dated June 9, 2021 and May 26, 2021; along with László Brenzovics’s letter and attachment to Commissioner for Human Rights Mijatovic of the Council of Europe.

1 “peoples in independent countries who are regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country, or a geographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest or colonization or the establishment of present state boundaries and who, irrespective of their legal status, retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions.”

2 Venice Commission Opinion (902/2017) on the Law on Education and Venice Commission Opinion (960/2019) on the Law Supporting the Functioning of the Ukrainian Language as the State Language.


June 9, 2021

Ukrainian Bill Excludes Hungarian Minority

HHRF ALERT: Ukrainian President Zelensky’s Bill on Indigenous Peoples Excludes Hungarian Minority
ILO Convention, Venice Commission Ignored

In an inexplicable move, the bill submitted by President Zelensky on Indigenous Peoples in the Ukraine excludes the 150,000 Hungarian community which has inhabited the Subcarpathia region of the country for over 1,000 years.

Meanwhile, the Council of Europe advisory Venice Commission, among others, has consistently called on Ukraine to apply constitutional norms regarding the equal treatment of all indigenous peoples and national minorities.

In a May 26 letter to the president, the head of the Hungarian Teachers Association of Subcarpathia, Ildikó Orosz, appealed to Zelensky to equally apply the ILO Convention 169 (1989) definition of “indigenous people”[1] to the Hungarian minority and not just the Crimean Tatar, Karaite, and Krymchak peoples. The bill justifies excluding the Hungarian minority because they have an outside co-national state (“kin state”) to support their cultural development. Once again the Ukrainian leadership has rejected Venice Commission recommendations specifically stating “that it is unacceptable to establish different levels and degrees of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities versus indigenous peoples based on whether the group has a kin state, and/or whether the kin state is a member of particular international alliances,” notes Orosz.

Far from being a semantic fine point, the definition and application of the term “indigenous peoples” has real-time impact on whether or not, and to what extent the members of the Hungarian minority can use and study in their native language. Key laws have been adopted in recent years without defining the concept and ignoring international obligations in the area of minority rights. For example, in 2017 and 2019, the Venice Commission criticized the Law on Education as noted above[2] , and the Law Supporting the Functioning of the Ukrainian Language as the State Language,” calling on Ukraine to repeal discriminatory provisions in the latter. [3]

Should the bill on Indigenous Peoples recognize the Hungarian minority, it could effectively settle the legal issues regarding Hungarian-language education in Subcarpathia, emphasizes Orosz. The otherwise highly minority rights-restrictive Law on Education (2017) states in Article 7 that students who are members of an indigenous people have the right to education in their native language at all levels, until the completion of secondary school. Such a move would comply with the Venice Commission’s recommendations on the Law on Education, and be a significant step in halting Ukraine’s course, since 2017, of reversing already acquired rights for its minorities (see a brief analysis in Minority Rights-Ukraine’s Gateway to the West).

The Hungarian Human Rights Foundation urges President Zelensky to support the amendment requested by the Hungarian minority for the Verkhovna Rada to classify them as an indigenous people, and thereby comply with relevant human rights instruments.

1 “peoples in independent countries who are regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country, or a geographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest or colonization or the establishment of present state boundaries and who, irrespective of their legal status, retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions.”
2 Venice Commission Opinion (902/2017) on the Law on Education states in paragraph 110: “the reason invoked by the Ukrainian authorities – the absence of kin-states – is generally not considered to be acceptable under applicable European standards; any differentiation must be based on other grounds such as, e.g., different degrees of vulnerability or need of state support.”
3 Venice Commission Opinion (960/2019) on the Law Supporting the Functioning of the Ukrainian Language as the State Language”  provides a specific recommendation in paragraph 139, point 3: “to repeal the provisions of the Law providing for a differential treatment between the languages of indigenous peoples, the languages of national minorities which are official languages of the EU and the languages of national minorities which are not official languages of the EU to the extent that the distinction between those languages is not based on an objective and reasonable justification (see §§39-44, 69-82, 87, 89, 93, 94, 99-102, 110, and 111)


December 1, 2020

HHRF ALERT: UKRAINIAN SECURITY FORCES RAID HUNGARIAN MINORITY INSTITUTIONS ON FALSE CHARGES

On Monday, November 30, armed commando units of the Ukrainian Security Forces (SBU) raided top Hungarian minority institutions throughout the Subcarpathian region, as well as the home of leader László Brenzovics.

In a statement released yesterday, the Cultural Alliance of Hungarians in Subcarpathia (KMKSZ) condemned the heretofore unprecedented official assault against the 150,000-strong minority community emphasizing that “what we’re witnessing is a meticulously coordinated campaign based on fabricated political charges intended to destroy Hungarian community institutions and intimidate the Hungarian minority and its leaders in Subcarpathia.”

The raids were carried out at the Charitable Foundation for the Hungarian College in

Subcarpathia, the Egan Ede Subcarpathian Economic Development Center, headquarters of the KMKSZ in Uzhhorod/Ungvár, and the home of KMKSZ President László Brenzovics.

Commando units claimed to be looking for evidence of money laundering, accounting and contract fraud, activities aimed at dismantling the territorial integrity of the country, attempts to change the country’s borders by force, and damaging the state. According to the Cultural Alliance, the legal contrivance was an ongoing criminal investigation by the Zaporizhzhya Court alleging “separatism,” which originated with journalist Glagola Vitalij,  and a website, madyar.info, well-known for disseminating false, virulently anti-Hungarian propaganda.

Previous attempts to intimidate the Hungarian minority include the to-date unsolved February 2018 fire-bombing on KMKSZ headquarters in Uzhhorod, as reported by HHRF.

The Hungarian Human Rights Foundation (HHRF) calls on the competent Ukrainian authorities to immediately cease the politically based, unfounded and unprovoked assault against the persons and institutions of the Hungarian national minority. Specifically, all confiscated materials should be returned to the victims, and charges dropped against all persons and institutions targeted by the November 30, 2020 raid.

You can read details about the legal contrivance in the attachment to Brenzovics’s December 9 letter to the Council of Europe alerting the human rights commissioner to the atrocities.


November 1, 2019

HHRF ALERT: Speak Up for the Hungarian Minority in Ukraine! Tell the New York Times and Washington Post They Are Misinformed

OPEN REPORT IN PDF

Here are some examples you can refer to:

   ·       Numerous  illegal activities and undemocratic policies surrounded the July 2019 parliamentary elections in which the Hungarian minority community lost its sole representative in the Rada. There is now no one at the national level to speak up for the community.

·         In April 2019, the Ukrainian president signed a law curtailing the Hungarian minority’s use of their mother tongue, in violation of their own constitution.

·         No student enrolled in the Mukachevo/Munkács State University’s Hungarian Department in September 2019. The country’s anti-Hungarian, coupled with unfair entrance exams and changes to the education law, have driven Hungarian language education into the ground.

·         Billboards falsely labeling Hungarians “separatists” littered the Subcarpathian countryside in October 2018.

·         In September 2018, the Ukrainian parliament’s website hosted a petition to deprive dual Ukrainian-Hungarian citizens of their citizenship and deport them.

·         “There are no Hungarians living in Subcarpathia, only Ukrainians of Hungarian origin,” proclaimed the president of Subcarpathian State Administrative Office, Ihor Bondarenko, in October 2019.

·         The headquarters of the Cultural Alliance of Hungarians in Subcarpathia (KMKSZ) in Uzghorod/Ungvár was firebombed in February 2018. The perpetrators have yet to be identified or charged.

·         An extremist website, Myrotvorets, that in 2018 revealed the personal data of hundreds of ethnic Hungarians it deemed “enemies of the state” is still up and running.

Please stand up for human rights and submit comments to both newspapers.  

July 18, 2019

HHRF ALERT: Police Raid Homes of Hungarian Minority Leaders in Ukraine to Intimidate Voters

Sole Parliamentary Representative for the Community Appeals to European Parliament

Following armed raids at the homes of ethnic Hungarian community leaders in Subcarpathia, Ukraine, the president of the Cultural Alliance of Hungarians in Subcarpathia (KMKSZ) called on the newly-elected European Parliament president to “demand that Ukraine observe the Law on Elections, in order to give minorities at least a fair chance to have their interests represented at the parliamentary level.” In his July 15 letter to EP President Sassoli, László Brenzovics wrote about “numerous illegal activities and undemocratic policies,” which threaten the fairness” of the July 21 parliamentary elections and the future of his community.

In a show of solidarity, locals rushed to the home of ethnic Hungarian Károly Rezes - an elected official on the Subcarpathia County Council – on Monday when police stormed his Szőlősgyula (Diula) house with a warrant falsely accusing him of buying votes. A hearing is scheduled in Kiev on July 19. Earlier that day, police also raided the home of Salank (Shalanky) mayor, Viktor Aljohin.

Brenzovics told karpatalja.net on Tuesday that “Accusations of us buying votes is absurd and nothing other than attempts to intimidate the activists and representatives of the Hungarian community in Subcarpathia…we emphatically protest the fact that authorities are harassing us instead of pursuing the real perpetrators of election fraud.” Moreover, the Hungarian community stands to lose any and all representation in the Rada with the rejection of a Subcarpathian voting constituency in violation of Article 18 on the Law on Elections to the Supreme Council of Ukraine.

“The intimidation and harassment of Hungarian community leaders, journalists, teachers, and organizations continues unabated,” states the appeal for help to Sassoli and the use of his good offices on behalf of minority rights and democratic practices. In fact, none too soon, the Hungarian Cultural Alliance learned, via Twitter, on Thursday, July 18, that acting Foreign Minister Jehor Bozsok had instructed the Ukrainian Security Service  to begin criminal proceedings against KMKSZ. The charges? Apparently using the “Hungarian colors” of red-white-green on a map in its publication to indicate those election districts of concern for ethnic Hungarians in Subcarpathia is tantamount to “inciting separatism” and threatening “the inviolability of Ukraine’s territorial integrity” per Article 110, Section 2 of the penal code. Brenzovics denounced the foreign minister’s actions as those fomenting anti-Hungarian sentiments on the heels of the election, and appealed to the central authorities for normalized relations between the communities.

Read the entire letter below.