Newsweek Opinion: Suppression by the Suppressed: Ukraine’s Restrictions on Minority Rights | Balázs Tárnok


As Ukraine faces ongoing conflict and strives for EU and NATO accession, the government in Kyiv has drawn criticism from international organizations for its restrictions on the rights of ethnic minorities, including those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the nation’s freedom.

As Russia was dropping missiles on Ukraine by the dozens in mid-December of last year, the Ukrainian parliament adopted a new Law on National Minorities, in order to comply with the EU’s accession criteria of protecting national minorities. What this new law does, however, is exactly the opposite: Kyiv strips from its ethnic minorities rights which they had previously enjoyed.​​​ ​​

Ethnic minorities, for instance Poles, are not guaranteed under the new legislation to freely use their ethnic-national symbols, even though they are fighting on the front lines, and Poland provides the biggest possible support to Ukraine.​ ​​T​hey are provided less time to air Polish-language media content and can barely use their mother tongue in schools or outside their homes, even though they were free to do so since the independence of Ukraine.

Now the Venice Commission—the constitutional advisory body of Europe’s leading human rights organization—is formally examining whether the law is up to par with international human rights standards.

Spoiler alert: it isn’t.

This isn’t the first time Kyiv’s treatment of its national minority population has come under scrutiny. After the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, Ukraine radically changed its minority policy. In 2017, the Ukrainian Parliament passed a Law on Education which severely limited the existing rights of ethnic minorities to be educated in their native language. Two years later, a new State Language Law literally prohibited the use of historic minority languages in all spheres of public life. These were an embattled nation’s knee-jerk reactions to Russian aggression. It’s the kind of ethnophobic neo-nationalism that harkens back to Europe’s darkest decades.

Although the intended target of these policies was the Russian-speaking population in Eastern Ukraine, they affected all other ethnic minority groups, too—including Bulgarians, Poles, Romanians, and Hungarians. At the time several international organizations, including the Council of Europe, the European Union, and NATO, raised serious concerns about the new legislation and called for Ukraine to safeguard the fundamental rights of all members of its population—but to no effect.

The concerns over Ukraine’s newly adopted Law on Minorities are the same; while the aim to strengthen Ukraine as a nation, especially at a time of war, is perfectly legitimate, stripping previously existing rights away from Ukraine’s ethnic minority populations and totally disregarding international standards for minority rights must not be an acceptable method of nation-building. Ukraine’s Bulgarians, Poles, Romanians, and Hungarians—who are now being denied even the use of their native language in daily life—are dying on the front lines the same way ethnic Ukrainians ​are​.

As Ukraine fights a David-and-Goliath battle to maintain its independence, it must not trample on significant portions of its own population. The West, which has shown overwhelming and unwavering support for Kyiv, must make clear that if Ukraine is serious about Western integration, it must show respect for its own minorities, its neighboring countries who are supporting partners, and international organizations. Harassing its ethnic minority citizens, many of whom have shed their blood for Ukraine, is no way to build a successful democratic nation.

The most obvious legal solution for Ukraine is to restore all previously existing rights of those ethnic groups who speak an official language of the EU, including Bulgarians, Poles, Romanians, and Hungarians. Given that Ukraine’s EU accession will one day require the unanimous consent of all EU member states, it is also the only viable political way forward for Kyiv.

Ukraine’s ethnic minorities rightly feel betrayed and thrown to the wolves by their political leadership. ​How​ can you ask citizens to die for their country when their own leaders seek to erase their cultural, linguistic and ethnic identity?

The war in Ukraine is not only about territorial integrity and independence. It is also Ukraine’s war to preserve its own national identity. Russia is certainly in the business of canceling Ukrainian identity as such. But in its fight to push back against Russian aggression, Ukraine cannot win this war and lose its soul. If Ukraine is to emerge from this bloody war to preserve its own nationhood and become a strong, confident, and prosperous European country, it must respect the fundamental rights of its own minority populations.

Dr. Balázs Tárnok is Managing Director of the Europe Strategy Research Institute at the University of Public Service, Budapest; and co-founder of the Freedom and Identity in Central Europe (FICE). In 2021, he was Hungary Foundation‘s Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Notre Dame. Twitter: @TarnokB

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

Source: https://www.newsweek.com/suppression-suppressed-ukraines-restrictions-minority-rights-opinion-1779946


Hungarian Flags, Inscriptions and Heads of Institutions Removed in Mukachevo Region, Ukraine

The party representing the 150,000-strong Hungarian minority in Ukraine has protested official action against the display of minority symbols and Hungarian-language inscriptions, all protected by law.

In Mukachevo (Munkács) and some villages of the surrounding sub-region, where the majority of the population is ethnic Hungarian, national flags and signs in Hungarian were removed from public institutions. Well-respected heads of several Hungarian institutions were also dismissed. The actions appear to be locally driven.

Beginning January 13, the leaders of local institutions in and around Mukachevo were instructed to remove the Hungarian national flag and Hungarian inscriptions from the buildings of their institutions. In at least one case, the Mukachevo municipal police carried out the act without force.

Furthermore, on January 17, István Schink, the 17-year veteran director of the II. Hungarian language Ferenc Rákóczi Secondary School in Mukachevo, and Valéria Korolovics, head of the Cultural Center of Dercen for 18 years, were both dismissed from their positions without cause.

Mindful that these acts can show Ukraine in a negative light, on January 26, representatives of the Hungarian minority addressed their concerns to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at a meeting in the Transcarpathian County Council. József Barta, executive vice-president of the Cultural Alliance of Hungarians in Sub-Carpathia (KMKSZ), said in his speech that the Hungarian national symbols were removed without consultation with the Hungarian community, and without approval by representatives of the Munkachevo Regional Council.

Previously, on January 24, the leadership of KMKSZ had issued a statement protesting these actions which come upon the heels of consternation caused by the removal of a significant Hungarian symbol, the Turul statue, from Mukachevo castle.

Statement by the Cultural Alliance of Hungarians in Sub-Carpathia (KMKSZ)

The Board of the KMKSZ protests against the removal of the heads of Hungarian educational and cultural institutions belonging to the Mukachevo microregion and considers the unjustified dismissal of the director of Mukachevo II. Ferenc Rákóczi Secondary School to be an illegal measure that threatens the quality of Hungarian-language education.

The nationalities law currently in force ensures the free use of the national symbols of minorities, such as the flag. The provisions of the Language Act allow the posting of public signs in minority languages in addition to the state language in settlements inhabited by minorities. Therefore, the Presidency considers the removal of Hungarian flags and inscriptions in the settlements of the Mukachevo micro-region to be an arbitrary move, contrary to the laws in force, and will take official legal action.

Uzhhorod, January 24, 2023

READ Original in Hungarian

Hungary and Romania Join Forces in the Council of Europe For Review of the New Ukrainian Law on National Minorities

At a joint Hungarian-Romanian initiative, the monitoring committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (CoE) unanimously decided to ask the CoE’s constitutional advisory body, the Venice Commission, to examine whether the Ukrainian minority protection law is in line with international standards.

Zsolt Németh, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Hungarian Parliament stated that despite Ukraine’s obligations and pronouncement, it did not in fact hold consultations with the Venice Commission or the representatives of the national minorities before adopting the law. “The fundamental condition for Ukraine’s integration into the EU is compliance with international minority protection legislation, which is also required by the Copenhagen criteria for accession,” emphasized Zsolt Németh.



Photo: Kárpátalja.ma https://karpatalja.ma/karpatalja/kozelet/turulmadar-munkacs-kisterseg-magyarellenesseg/

New Ukrainian Law on National Minorities Misses the Mark


Hungarian Minority Parties Issue Critical Statement

Political parties representing the interests of the 150,000-strong Hungarian national minority in Ukraine published the following joint statement, expressing their disappointment with the Ukrainian Parliament’s new law on national minorities. The law “fails to guarantee adequate institutional foundations or legal mechanisms for implementing and protecting the rights of national minorities.”

We ask the United States Congress and Administration, NATO, the EU, and all other stakeholders to heed the concerns of the affected communities, and to urge the Ukrainian government to fulfill its international and Constitutional commitments to protect the rights of national minorities.

Hungarian Human Rights Foundation


Joint statement of the Cultural Alliance of Hungarians in Sub-Carpathia (KMKSZ) and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Ukraine (UMDSZ) Regarding the Law on National Minorities (Communities) of Ukraine

On December 13, 2022, by a vote of 324, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the law “On National Minorities (Communities) of Ukraine” in the second reading. Legislators completely ignored the constructive proposals that were made earlier by Hungarian and other minority group organizations. The legislation not only strengthens all the restrictions that were previously codified in the Education and State Language Acts, but implements new ones as well. For example, it does not guarantee the preservation of compact ethnic settlement areas, or the use of one’s national symbols. The law interprets minority rights exclusively as rights that can be exercised individually by persons belonging to a minority group, which deprives national minorities (their communities, organizations) of any institutionally exercisable political, educational, and language rights, and therefore the ability to influence their own destiny.

In our opinion, the law in its current form is not suitable as an acceptable Ukrainian legislative instrument to implement neither the Constitution’s provisions, nor Ukraine’s international legal obligations as regards the protection of the rights of national minorities. The adopted law does not guarantee adequate institutional foundations or legal mechanisms for the implementation and protection of the rights of national minorities.

Uzhhorod, December 14, 2022

READ Original in Hungarian

Download PDF here

November 22, 2022

Ukrainian Town Officials Remove Hungarian Minority Symbol

Unnecessary Provocation against the Transcarpathian Hungarian Minority 

On October 13, the Turul statue was removed suddenly from the obelisk of Mukachevo (Munkács) Castle by the Executive Committee of the Mukachevo City Council.¹ By October 25, the three-pronged harpoon serving as the Ukrainian national coat of arms was in its place.² Mukachevo is a historically significant cultural center for the 150,000-strong Hungarian minority in Ukraine. The Turul, a mythical bird, is a universal Hungarian symbol.

The legality of the removal of the statue is being investigated by the prosecutor’s office, following a complaint filed by the Cultural Alliance of Hungarians in Transcarpathia.³ 

The statue was removed surreptitiously within hours of the decision. Its current condition and location are not known to the Hungarian community.

The circumstances surrounding the decision by the Executive Committee of the City Council are shrouded in mystery.

Hungarian Minority Members of Council Evaded
In their October 18 protest statement, 18 representatives of the City Council emphasized that the decision was made not by elected members, but by the city’s Executive Committee. “Socially significant issues must be resolved in the meeting room by the representatives who have been entrusted with these powers, not by the executive committee, which has no representative function and assumes no responsibility for its decisions,”⁴ holds the statement. Moreover, according to Imre Pákh, the Hungarian-American businessman from Mukachevo who financed the cost of the monument erected in 2008, the ethnic Hungarian members of the Executive Committee were not notified of any proposal to remove the statue.⁵ 

The legal and historic preservation status of the monument is unclear. According to the sources in the October 22 Telex article, many historically and culturally significant Hungarian monuments in Transcarpathia are in a similar limbo. What is clear, according to Viktor Baloha, the region’s representative in the Rada is that “a political decision was made” to use monuments as pawns in local and regional power struggles, and in bilateral relations with Hungary, all at the expense of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine.⁶ 

Hungarian Transcarpathian Organizations Protest 
The Cultural Alliance of Hungarians in Transcarpathia (KMKSZ) and the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Ukraine (UDMSZ) have vigorously protested the removal of the Turul Statue, which was returned to its original place “in the spirit of the common historical past and the peaceful coexistence of nationalities,” in 2008, after an 84-year absence. The leadership of the Democratic Union points out in its October 13 statement⁷ that for the first time in the history of independent Ukraine, “does a Transcarpathian municipality deny permission for erecting or restoring a monument significant to the culture and history of Hungarians, rather orders its destruction.” The organization has called on the members of the Executive Committee of the Mukachevo City Council to rescind their decision effective immediately.⁸

Governor of Transcarpathia Non-Committal
Viktor Mikita, the governor of Transcarpathia Oblast (Region) addressed the incident in his press conference⁹ on October 18 stating the need for “meaningful dialogue” as regards the monument, in which regional representatives will also participate. According to the governor, after the decision, the case was examined from several points of view, concluding that the monument should not have been removed in such a hasty manner. He emphasized that decisions of this kind must be discussed with the local community.¹⁰

State Secretary János Árpád Potápi expresses Hungary’s exasperation 
“It is unfortunate that in the middle of a war, the most important thing for the leadership of the city of Mukachevo is to dismantle the monument, which is considered one of the prominent symbols of the local and Transcarpathian Hungarians, while Hungary is carrying out the largest humanitarian aid operation in the history of Hungary to help the war refugees in Ukraine. This step is extremely ill-considered and untimely when armed aggression is raging in Ukraine, which may work against the stability of the multi-ethnic Transcarpathia,”¹¹ State Secretary János Árpád Potápi wrote on social media. 

HHRF Position Statement
The Hungarian Human Rights Foundation (HHRF) strongly condemns the removal of the Turul statue in Mukachevo, Ukraine on October 13. This decision is an affront to the historical and cultural patrimony of Ukraine’s Hungarian minority, and undermines the peaceful co-existence of nationalities in the Transcarpathian region. As one of the community’s leaders, Andrea Bocskor has stated “It is part of European principles and values that we mutually respect historical monuments and symbols.”¹² Accordingly, HHRF calls upon the appropriate Ukrainian officials to immediately rescind their decision, reveal the statue’s location and condition; and forthwith return it to its original location in the spirit of mutual respect and respect for the rule of law.


¹ https://kiszo.net/2022/10/19/85997/
² https://magyarnemzet.hu/kulfold/2022/10/felavattak-az-ukran-nemzeti-cimert-a-ledontott-turul-helyen
³ https://magyarnemzet.hu/kulfold/2022/10/brenzovics-laszlo-felhaborito-es-elitelendo-a-barbar-cselekedet
⁴ https://kiszo.net/2022/10/20/turul-ugy-tiltakozik-a-munkacsi-varosi-tanacs-tobbsege/
⁵ https://magyarnemzet.hu/belfold/2022/10/pakh-imre-a-munkacsi-turulszobor-eltavolitasa-provokacio-es-uszitas?fbclid=IwAR2Lx1e26MgUIoTuRLgR0h-aBOcjHYHQSAYEvU9nB76nOhlNFd6h11fgrsQ
⁶ https://telex.hu/kulfold/2022/10/22/turul-levetele-munkacs-baloha-ukrajna-magyar-kormany
⁷ https://kmksz.com.ua/2022/10/13/a-karpataljai-magyar-kulturalis-szovetseg-nyilatkozata-2/
⁸ https://kiszo.net/2022/10/13/tiltakoznak-a-munkacsi-turulszobor-eltavolitasa-ellen-a-karpataljai-magyar-szervezetek/
⁹ Youtube Video – TV21 Ungvár Híradó Esti Hírek Október 18 
¹⁰ https://karpatalja.ma/karpatalja/nezopont/mikita-ertelmes-parbeszed-szukseges-a-munkacsi-turul-emlekmu-kapcsan/
¹¹ https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=662503981911915&set=a.435182417977407&type=3
¹² https://www.facebook.com/BocskorAndreaEP/posts/pfbid0kigvJikMyiWPcjtApMVM5nzY6E5tzXaoyGMVgfhFTNDDDYTrywHU41b7AYagVzzl

Eltávolították a munkácsi vár obeliszkjéről a Turul-emlékművet

Fölösleges provokáció a kárpátaljai magyar kisebbség ellen

Rekordgyorsasággal távolították el a Turul-emlékművet a munkácsi vár obeliszkjéről a Munkácsi Városi Tanács Végrehajtó Bizottságának október 13-ai határozatára¹ hivatkozva, melynek helyére október 25-én már ki is helyezték az ukrán címer háromágú szigonyát, a trizubát.² A szobrot a döntést követően órákon belül titokban távolították el, melynek a jelenlegi állapota és elhelyezkedése a magyar közösség számára ismeretlen. A szobor eltávolításának törvényszerűségét az ügyészség vizsgálja, a Kárpátaljai Magyar Kulturális Szövetség feljelentése nyomán.³

A Városi Tanács Végrehajtó Bizottságának döntésének körülményeit rejtély övezi
A Munkácsi Városi Tanács többsége az október 18-ai tiltakozó nyilatkozatában kiemelte, hogy a döntést nem a megválasztott képviselők, hanem a városi Végrehajtó Bizottság hozta meg, azonban a „társadalmilag jelentős kérdéseket az ülésteremben a képviselőknek kell megoldaniuk, akiket felhatalmaztak ezen jogkörökkel, nem pedig a végrehajtó bizottságnak, amelynek nincs képviseleti funkciója, és nem vállal felelősséget döntéseiért”⁴ – áll a közleményben. Továbbá, Pákh Imre, munkácsi magyar származású, Amerikában élő üzletember szerint, aki az emlékmű költségeit finanszírozta 2008-ban, a Végrehajtó Bizottság magyar nemzetiségű tagjait nem is értesítették a szobor eltávolítására irányuló javaslatról.⁵

Az emlékmű jogi és műemlékvédelmi státusza nem tisztázott. A Telex október 22-i cikkének forrásai szerint sok történelmi és kulturális szempontból jelentős magyar műemlék van hasonló helyzetben. Baloha Viktor, a régió radai képviselője szerint egyértelmű, hogy „politikai döntés született”, mivel az emlékműveket a helyi és regionális hatalmi harcokban, valamint a Magyarországgal való kétoldalú kapcsolatokban politikai játékszerként használják, mindezt az ukrajnai magyar kisebbség rovására.⁶ 

Tiltakoznak a magyar kárpátaljai szervezetek
A turul eltávolítása ellen nyilatkozatban tiltakozott a Kárpátaljai Magyar Kulturális Szövetség (KMKSZ) és az Ukrajnai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség (UMDSZ) is. A KMSZK megdöbbenéssel értesült a döntésről, hiszen Munkács egyik jelképének számító turulszobor a város vezetésének kezdeményezésére került vissza eredeti helyére 84 év szünet után, 2008-ban, „a közös történelmi múlt és a nemzetiségek békés egymás mellett élésének jegyében” – emlékeztet a KMKSZ nyilatkozata.⁷ Az UMDSZ elnöksége pedig nyilatkozatában rámutat, hogy a független Ukrajna évtizedei alatt először fordul elő, hogy „egy kárpátaljai önkormányzat nem arról dönt, hogy a magyarság kultúrájával, történelmével kapcsolatos emlékmű felállítását, netán helyreállítását engedélyezi, hanem éppen ellenkezőleg, annak lerombolásáról dönt.” A szervezet “határozott tiltakozását fejezi ki a döntéssel kapcsolatban” és felszólítja a Munkácsi Városi Tanács Végrehajtó Bizottságának tagjait, hogy vonják vissza a határozatukat.⁸

Kárpátalja kormányzója a párbeszéd szükségességéről
Viktor Mikita, Kárpátalja kormányzója Október 18-ai sajtóbeszélgetésén tért ki a sajnálatos esetre⁹, ahol kijelentette, hogy értelmes párbeszédre van szükség a munkácsi Turul-emlékmű kapcsán ahol a kistérség képviselői is részt vesznek. A kormányzó szerint a határozat után több szempontból is meg lett vizsgálva az ügy, arra a következtetésre jutva, hogy nem lett volna szabad ilyen hirtelen formában eltávolítani az emlékművet. Hangsúlyozta, hogy az ilyen jellegű döntéseket mindenképp meg kell vitatni a helyi közösséggel is.¹⁰ 

Potápi Árpád János államtitkár Magyarország elkeseredésének ad hangot
A magyar kormány részéről Potápi Árpád János, a Miniszterelnökség nemzetpolitikáért felelős államtitkára megdöbbentőnek, felháborítónak, és sajnálatosnak nevezte, hogy egy háború kellős közepén Munkács vezetése számára az a legfontosabb, hogy lebontsa a helyi, valamint a kárpátaljai magyarság egyik kiemelt jelképének számító Turul-emlékművet, miközben Magyarország története legnagyobb humanitárius segélyakcióját hajtja végre az ukrajnai háborús menekültek megsegítésére. Az államtitkár mindemellett kiemelte, hogy „egy európai értékeket valló országban alapvető fontosságú a történelmi emlékművek és emlékhelyek kölcsönös tisztelete és megőrzése, a nemzeti kisebbségek vonatkozásában, hiszen ez az egyik fokmérője az adott ország kisebbségpolitikájának. Ez a lépés az Ukrajnában dúló fegyveres agresszió idején rendkívül átgondolatlan és időszerűtlen, amely a soknemzetiségű Kárpátalja stabilitása ellen hathat.”¹¹

HHRF Állásfoglalás
A Hungarian Human Rights Foundation (HHRF) határozottan elítéli a Turul-emlékmű eltávolítását Munkácson. A döntés sérti az ukrajnai magyar kisebbség történelmi és kulturális örökségét, és aláássa a nemzetiségek békés együttélését Kárpátalján. Bocskor Andrea, kárpátaljai magyar politikus és európai parlamenti képviselője kijelentette, hogy “az európai alapelvek és értékek része, hogy kölcsönösen tiszteletben tartjuk a történelmi emlékeket és szimbólumokat is.”¹² Ennek értelmében a HHRF felszólítja az illetékes ukrán tisztviselőket, hogy a kölcsönös tisztelet és a jogállamiság tisztelete jegyében haladéktalanul vonják vissza döntésüket, fedjék fel a szobor helyét és állapotát, és helyezzék vissza eredeti helyére.


¹ https://kiszo.net/2022/10/19/85997/
² https://magyarnemzet.hu/kulfold/2022/10/felavattak-az-ukran-nemzeti-cimert-a-ledontott-turul-helyen
³ https://magyarnemzet.hu/kulfold/2022/10/brenzovics-laszlo-felhaborito-es-elitelendo-a-barbar-cselekedet
⁴ https://kiszo.net/2022/10/20/turul-ugy-tiltakozik-a-munkacsi-varosi-tanacs-tobbsege/
⁵ https://magyarnemzet.hu/belfold/2022/10/pakh-imre-a-munkacsi-turulszobor-eltavolitasa-provokacio-es-uszitas?fbclid=IwAR2Lx1e26MgUIoTuRLgR0h-aBOcjHYHQSAYEvU9nB76nOhlNFd6h11fgrsQ
⁶ https://telex.hu/kulfold/2022/10/22/turul-levetele-munkacs-baloha-ukrajna-magyar-kormany
⁷ https://kmksz.com.ua/2022/10/13/a-karpataljai-magyar-kulturalis-szovetseg-nyilatkozata-2/
⁸ https://kiszo.net/2022/10/13/tiltakoznak-a-munkacsi-turulszobor-eltavolitasa-ellen-a-karpataljai-magyar-szervezetek/
⁹ Youtube Video – TV21 Ungvár Híradó Esti Hírek Október 18
¹⁰ https://karpatalja.ma/karpatalja/nezopont/mikita-ertelmes-parbeszed-szukseges-a-munkacsi-turul-emlekmu-kapcsan/
¹¹ https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=662503981911915&set=a.435182417977407&type=3
¹² https://www.facebook.com/BocskorAndreaEP/posts/pfbid0kigvJikMyiWPcjtApMVM5nzY6E5tzXaoyGMVgfhFTNDDDYTrywHU41b7AYagVzzl

February 17, 2022

The Fifth Periodic Report of Ukraine on the Implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities

Written comments submitted February 17, 2022 by Hungarian Researchers and NGOs in Subcarpathia, Ukraine

This report focuses on the problematic and unsolved issues surrounding minority language use in Ukraine despite the ratification of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The written comments by the Hungarian Researchers and NGOs in Subcarpathia conclude in this report that, though Hungarians do not seek extra rights as a minority group they do seek to preserve their basic minority rights in order to maintain their language and cultural identity. They go on to conclude that if European organizations do not make a stand against the restrictions that Ukraine has set forth for minority rights, then Europe is setting a dangerous precedent which allows any country to build a homogeneous nation. 

Read the executive summary HERE

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


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


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. 

Please follow and like us: