Russia, Hungary, and the Hungarian minority in Ukraine

A few days ago an article appeared in Foreign Affairs with the somewhat sensational title “The Hungarian Putin? Viktor Orban and the Kremlin’s Playbook,” written by Mitchell A. Orenstein, Péter Krekó, and Attila Juhász. Orenstein is a professor of political science at Northeastern University in Boston and an associate of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University. Krekó and Juhász are associates of the Hungarian think tank Political Capital. The question the article poses is whether Hungary entertains any irredentist plans as far as her neighbors are concerned, similar to the way in which Russia behaved earlier in Abkhazia and now in Ukraine. After all, the Russian attacks on those territories were preceded by a grant of Russian citizenship to Ukrainians and Abkhazians. To this question the answer is negative. Viktor Orbán may sound bellicose at times, but he is interested in the Hungarians living in the neighboring countries only as a source of extra votes and perhaps a reservoir of immigrants to a country with dismal demographic figures.

The authors claim, however, that there is “a delicate balance [which] could easily topple.” What created this delicate balance? Although “Hungary’s radical right-wing, fascist, and irredentist party, Jobbik, has virtually no support among Hungarians abroad,” it is still possible that “aggressive separatist political movements, especially those with external political support, could … act as though they have a majority beyond them, as in eastern Ukraine.”  I must say that the exact meaning of this claim is unclear to me, but the authors’ argument is that the “nationalist political use of Hungarians abroad in Hungary could set the stage for such extremism and instability in neighboring countries.” In Ukraine such a danger is real “where Orban has taken advantage of political chaos to press Hungarian minority issues … in the sub-Carpathian region of western Ukraine, adjacent to Hungary.” There are far too many “ifs” here, but it is true that Orbán did announce his claim to autonomy for the Hungarian minority at the most inappropriate moment, during the first Russian attacks on eastern Ukraine.

It is unlikely that Hungary could convince Ukraine’s western friends to force Kiev to grant autonomy to the Hungarians of Sub-Carpathian Ukraine (Zakarpattia Oblast) who constitute 12.1% of the total population of the province. In 2001 they numbered 151,500, but since then it is possible that many of them either left for Hungary or with the help of a Hungarian passport migrated farther west. On the other hand, one occasionally hears Russian voices outlining ambitious plans for Ukraine and its minorities. For example, in March 2014 Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the nationalist Liberal Democratic party that backs Vladimir Putin, suggested that Poland, Hungary, and Romania might wish to take back regions which were their territories in the past. Romania might want Chrnivtsi; Hungary, the Zaparpattia region; and Poland, the Volyn, Lviv, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Rovensky regions. Thus Ukraine would be free of “unnecesssary tensions” and “bring prosperity and tranquility to the Ukrainian native land.”

Or, there is the Russian nationalist ideologue, Aleksandr Dugin, the promoter of a Russian-led “Eurasian Empire” that would incorporate Austria as well as Hungary, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia. Although Dugin’s specific recommendations were first reported on a far-right Hungarian site called Alfahir.hu, the news spread rapidly beyond the borders of Hungary. Dugin is an enemy of nation states and would like to see the return of empires. “If, let’s say, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, or perhaps even Volhynia and Austria would unite, all Hungarians would be within one country. Everything would return to the state that existed before Trianon.” Of course, Dugin’s argument is specious. Surely, a United Europe offers exactly the same advantages to the Hungarian minorities that Dugin recommends, but without the overlordship of Putin’s Russia.

One could discount these suggestions as fantasies, but something is in the air in Russia. The country’s foreign minister considers the fate of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine to be of such importance that at the Munich Security Conference a couple of days ago he spent a considerable amount of time on the minority’s grievances.

Mind you, Sergei Lavrov’s speech was met with derision by those present. As the reporter of Bloomberg described the scene, the “crowd laughed at and booed him.” Apparently, during his 45-minute speech he “rewrote the history of the Cold War, accused the West of fomenting a coup in Ukraine, and declared himself to be a champion of the United Nations Charter.” From our point of view, the most interesting part of the speech was the time he spent on the Hungarian minority in the Zakarpattia Oblast.

I think it is worth quoting Lavrov’s answer to a question that addresses this issue:

[The Ukrainians] are probably embarrassed to say it here, but now Ukraine is undergoing mobilization, which is running into serious difficulties. Representatives of the Hungarian, Romanian minorities feel “positive” discrimination, because they are called up in much larger proportions than ethnic Ukrainians. Why not talk about it? Or that in Ukraine reside not only Ukrainians and Russians, but there are other nationalities which by fate ended up in this country and want to live in it. Why not provide them with equal rights and take into account their interests? During the elections to the Verkhovnaya Rada the Hungarian minority asked to organize constituencies in such a way that at least one ethnic Hungarian would make it to the Rada. The constituencies were “sliced” so that none of the Hungarians made it. All this suggests that there is something to discuss.

Perhaps the most “amusing” part of the paragraph Lavrov devoted to the Hungarian and Romanian minorities in Ukraine is his claim that fate was responsible for these ethnic groups’ incorporation into the Soviet Union. I remember otherwise. The Soviet government kept the old Trianon borders without any adjustments based on ethnic considerations. The ethnic map of Zakarpattia Oblast shows that such an adjustment shouldn’t have been too difficult a task.

Ethnic map of Zakarpattia Obast  / Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zakarpattia_Oblast

Ethnic map of Zakarpattia Obast / Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zakarpattia_Oblast

The small Hungarian minority is obviously being used by the Russians to further their own claims, which in turn might encourage Viktor Orbán to pursue his quest for autonomous status for the largely Hungarian-inhabited regions of the oblast. The Orbán government supports autonomy for the Szeklers of central Transylvania despite the Romanian-Hungarian basic treaty of September 1996 that set aside the issue of territorial autonomy, to which Romania strenuously objected. The treaty had to be signed because NATO and EU membership depended on it. The Ukrainian situation is different because Ukraine is not part of the EU. Whether Orbán will accept the tacit or even open assistance of Russia for the sake of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine remains to be seen. In any case, to everybody’s surprise Viktor Orbán will pay a visit to Kiev where he will meet with President Petro Poroshenko.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Mrozek
Guest

“Meanwhile, Hungary’s radical, right-wing, fascist, and irredentist party, Jobbik, has virtually no support among Hungarians abroad, despite its attempts to build up networks in the Hungarian communities and fuel secessionist movements.”…. I think this quote from the Foreign Affairs piece underestimates Jobbik’s support abroad, Jobbik’s idea to redraw borders and attach Kárpátalja to Hungary is unrealistic but very popular among ethnic Hungarians abroad

Member

Even just the talk and the “Fight for Freedom” what the viktor claims, he is doing for Hungarians and the Nation of Hungary (Everything is National now, from the tobacco shops to the public toilettes) is for the votes of the die hard chauvinistic Fidesz fans. There may not be adjustments to the borders, but the viktor can say, he tried!
Hungarians were fed completely false stories about Trianon for 100 years, they have no clue, how the borders were established and even if you put the actual facts in front of their eyes, they deny of seeing them. The self pity and imagined or exaggerated injustice is what 90% of the Hungarians claim about Trianon, not one of them even considers the fact, that it was the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, which started WWI and lost it, which had its borders changed and NOT HUNGARY!!!!

Live long and prosper
Guest

@gybognarjr: your comment about Hungarians often being generally resentful of Trianon without knowing or understanding all the facts interested me. As a foreigner I have long been exasperated at the Hungarian obsession about the Treaty, but my knowledge of the details is too basic to permit a more nuanced understanding of it, but rather founded on a principal of ‘accepting things you cannot change’. Moreover, I too often find there is sometimes a tendency to self-pity among Hungarians, which is a state of mind that I find pointless, counter-productive and, frankly, a bit ridiculous. Would you like to explain this point in more detail for the benefit of those of us with less understanding of Trianon?

Member
LIVE LONG AND PROSPER: I think Éva is far more qualified to explain the historical background of the Trianon Treaty, but I will make an attempt. Hungarians, as many other nationalities are proud of their heritage and just as many other people tend to exaggerate the good and diminish the bad. There are times, when the Government asks loyal “historians” to falsify their history greatly, as they are doing it again in the last five years. In the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy the Hungarians did not contribute much culturally until the late 1700s, because a large portion of the nobility, the feudal landowners, barons, etc were multi-cultural, they spoke German, French, Latin, etc., but not the peasants language, Hungarian. Hence in 1948 in the years when revolutions spread through out Europe, Hungary revolted against the Austrians, to fight for independence both politically and culturally. They lost the revolution, which could have been predicted with 100% certainty, since the Russian Tsar with a huge army near the border of Hungary assured the Austrian Emperor to help him to maintain his power. After the 1949 capitulation, Hungary went through 18 years of severe reprisals by the Austrians. The Hungarian speaking population spread out fairly… Read more »
Guest

@gybognarjr
February 11, 2015 at 5:56 pm

Brief and to the point, you hit the nail on the head with your comment. But then much of Hungarian history, particularly of the last 200 years, as it is understood on the Hungarian street and taught in Hungarian schools, is a farrago of self-serving myths, half-truths and downright untruths. This then molds the Hungarian sense of identity, which is a sense of identity based in falsehoods, and the consequent culture of whining (panaszkultúra) so prevalent among Hungarians. Pathetic, really.

Member

Political Capital conducts no polling of its own. In some cases, they outsource polls to another institute, or they count the number of “likes” on a political party’s Facebook page and call it “research.”

Their claim that Jobbik has little support among the hatarontuliak might be based on the fact that Fidesz mopped up 95% of votes in neighboring countries in the 2014 election. Knowledgable people have pointed to possible fraud in the hatarontuli vote count. Also, a large number of these people did not bother to vote. Finally, having spent time in Vojvodina and Transylvania, I can offer copious anecdotal evidence that Jobbik indeed does have some pretty passionate supporters in these regions.

Guest

@Live long and prosper
February 11, 2015 at 11:55 pm

Peace. And long life.

Live long and prosper
Guest

Thank you so much for your very helpful summary of a complex historical matter. I still find the irridentist aspirations of VO in particular (and of many Hungarians, including in my own family) absurd, but now with more conviction.

tappanch
Guest

Fidesz’s “Szazadveg” just came out with a much better number for Fidesz than the independent pollster Ipsos yesterday, while the numbers for the other parties are the same.

Szazadveg ; Ipsos; 2014-04-06 election result (party list votes) in the total adult population.

Fidesz: 30%; 21%; 26.62%
Jobbik: 16%; 16%; 12.64%

MSzP+DK+Egyutt+PM: 17%; 17%; 16.02%
LMP: 3%; 3%; 3.34%

I think it is obvious that Szazadveg came out with a ridiculous number, which claims greater popular support for Fidesz than it had during the election last April. 🙂 🙂

http://index.hu/belfold/2015/02/12/szazadveg_maradt_a_fidesz-folenye/

tappanch
Guest

Here is the original report in Fidesz’s new crown jewel, napigazdasag.hu, which first aired the US banning of the corrupt 6 last October.

http://napigazdasag.hu/cikk/35797/

tappanch
Guest

So if we accept the estimates by Ipsos, the net changes in party support inside the total adult population, February 2015 – April 2014:

Fidesz: -6% (loss of 1/4 of its supporters)
Jobbik: +3%
MSzP+DK+Egyutt+PM: +1%

Guest

@Live long and prosper
February 11, 2015 at 11:55 pm

And by the way, Hungarians blaming Trianon on “the Jews” is like someone having a fight with his wife, then kicking his dog to make himself feel better.

After all, the latter follows logically from the former, doesn’t it?

Guest

@Live long and prosper
February 11, 2015 at 11:55 pm

And there is something else you need to know in connection to the viciously antisemitic aftermath of Trianon.

There was a short lived, bloody Communist dictatorship in Hungary in 1919, which was led by maybe less than a hundred young Jewish hotheads, idealists and straight-out criminals.

Less than a hundred. Yet, after the smashing of that Communist dictatorship within four months by the Entente, Hungarians firmly decided upon accusing the entire then almost one million strong Hungarian Jewish population of being collectively guilty of the depredations of those few.

The clergy and Hungarian Christian intellectuals were at the forefront of violently inciting public opinion.

Pogroms followed.

And into that inflamed situation then lobbed Trianon, like lightning out of a clear sky.

Yeah….., once upon a time, in a country called Hungary……..

Charming………

tappanch
Guest

It now seems from BBC investigation, that it was the anti-Yanukovich forces that started to shoot first in Kiev on February 20, 2014, not the way around as we were told that time.

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31359021

Guest

Dear Éva

Would it be possible to incorporate an editing function in the blog to help eliminate typos and to add or delete from one’s entries?

Best regards
Mike

petrovics
Guest

I think in Hungary we entered the Russian-style media world in earnest.

Yesterday Fidesz denied that the money forger fidesznik youth leader was a member of Fidesz when in fact the guy was attending numerous political functions as a Fidesz youth leader and there are countless pictures and videos. In other words, Fidesz clearly and verifiably lies, but it just doesn’t care, it doesn’t even have to care.

Szazdveg started to clearly cook its poll numbers, it doesn’t even care about any consistency, but who cares.

The bigger the confusion the better.

Since Fidesz has an almost lock on the minds of the rural voters, and the state media is just getting started, it will continue to be successful in spreading total lies.

Istvan
Guest
Eva’s current essay has to be situated within the context of the current cease fire agreement that Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin, and Petro Poroshenko announced just a few hours ago. The Ukrainians had little choice but to agree because their army is being beaten in every fight with Russian Spetsnaz and so called separatist forces. This rout has been downplayed by both the western and Russian media, and the reports go on and on about civilian causalities without any real discussion of the demolition of the Ukrianian military which also has completely inept leadership. What was apparently agreed to just a few hours ago is already to some degree in dispute with the Ukrainians spinning it one way and the Russian RT news service another. The ceasefire deal provides for withdrawal of all “foreign troops, heavy weapons and mercenaries” from Ukraine under an OSCE monitoring. “Illegal armed groups” would be disarmed, but local authorities in the future would be allowed to have legal militia units. But it needs to be understood that all of the Crimea occupied by Russia is no longer part of the Ukraine as it relates to this deal and the Russians are free to… Read more »
Guest

@Eva S. Balogh
February 12, 2015 at 6:11 am

Dear Éva

I am always ready, willing and indeed happy to change my position in light of additional facts.

I don’t mean to burden you with additional work, but I would really appreciate some pointers as to what respects is my understanding wrong as to the demographic and historical details of Hungarian history.

Much thanks in anticipation.

Mike

Guest

@Istvan:
I still hope you’re wrong in your assessment of Putin’s “victory” – the economy will tell and I believe it’s not on Russia’s side and the same goes for Orbán. Without support from the EU Hungary would be a third world country and people probably will realise that if this support gets reduced (or disappears totally if Orbán really leaves the EU …)

PS and totally OT:
I had to chuckle at your “all be it not riding a white horse” – was that the spell correction that transformed the “albeit”? Haven’t read that often lately …

Gianni
Guest

Orban will continue to gravitate towards Putin (although Orban is already inside Putin’s rectum, he can hardly get any closer to Putin), this was never in doubt. He is on Putin’s payroll we all know that and he firmly believes in Dugin’s theories.

Putin will also continue to act aggressively, but perhaps not immediately. He takes his time wait until Ukraine goes bankrupt, will continue his Special War against Ukraine and the West and when the time is right he will reassert himself with his army. Only the naïve Western governments can think that Putin now fully stopped. Far from it.

romeno
Guest

Perhaps, all has to be viewed in the light of “Dezinformatsia” misinformation in English.

Iran, Russia, Turkey, and the killer Islamic terrorists want to defeat the Enlightened West.

Their propaganda finds lots of sympathizers among Americans.

Many American websites and pacifica radio are repeating the “Dezinformatsia” material here in America.

We have got our homebred kuruc media, and the Democratic leadership is playing a page from Chamberlaine’s playbook.

In Hungary, many trolls serve the Orban-Putin line.

Lately, I am suspecting that Heisler made a statement in their service. What else can be the explanation?

http://www.galamus.hu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=443852:schmidt-maria-mint-a-baloldali-nyilvanossag-merceje&catid=51:csmihancsikzsofia&Itemid=129

petofi
Guest

@Gianni

“He is on Putin’s payroll..”

Precisely. But the question is: since when?

And also: not only Victor but who else? Or why have Hungarian governments allowed
the sale/buy-back (twice!) of Malev by Russians in order to siphon off government moneys?

I still remember Kalman Olga asking the CEO of Malev, in its last year of operation, how well
the company was doing. “Good” was the reply, “And we should be looking for a buyer now.”
It would be interesting to know why they didn’t try the same trick a third time; but I suppose
that ripping off several hundred thousand ticket holders was just too good to pass up…

Hajra Magyarok!!

Are we still Proud…?

Guest

@Eva S. Balogh
February 12, 2015 at 8:46 am

I shall really appreciate that, whenever convenient for yourself. But as I am only an occasional visitor on this blog, I would be grateful if you could alert me with a quick email when you are ready to talk about this topic.

much thanks
mike

lumpy Lang
Guest

“There was a short lived, bloody Communist dictatorship in Hungary in 1919, which was led by maybe less than a hundred young Jewish hotheads, idealists and straight-out criminals. Less than a hundred.”

The history is quite a bit more complicated. Formulas of this type simply repeat the blood libel of the Hungarian anti-Semites re 1919.

Member

All four leaders, after more than 16 hours of talks, have agreed a new ceasefire starting on February 15.
I just cannot wait for Orban to chime in calling it his achievement.

petofi
Guest

re: ceasefire

Yup.
And Mr. Diplomat, Victor’s uncle Putin, single-handedly declared that it begins on Sunday.
Some agreement!

Of course, Victor and Vladimir will be patting each other on the back in the hot tub on how
they cowed the West again! In the meantime, their currencies, and their economies, are
going into the toilet…but who cares, when you’re 5 foot 6 inches and registering all these
victories over those BIG ones?

buddy
Guest

OT:

Hungarian-owned grocery chain CBA pays its employees the worst in Hungary: an average 134,000 Ft per month GROSS, which is really not enough for anyone to live on. (CBA’s products are also among the most expensive, which makes this even more scandalous.)

German-owned Aldi and Lidl pay their employees the best, an average of 299,000 and 244,000 Ft. per month respectively.

Basically Germans treat Hungarians far better financially than Hungarians treat themselves. And yet these foreign grocery chains are being chased out of the country.

Shameful.

http://hvg.hu/kkv/20150212_Durvan_alulfizeti_dolgozoit_a_CBA

Istvan
Guest
Some1, Petofi, and others this cease fire agreement is profoundly disturbing, because like the first Minsk accords this one again saves thousands of poorly led Ukrainian soldiers from annihilation by Russian forces. About 12,000 Ukrainian soldiers were encircled the first time this happened back in September, this time in Debaltseve, a rail hub on the border of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that once had 25,000 people living in it most of whom were Russian speakers, about 6,500 Ukrainian soldiers are yet again surrounded and cut off. No doubt some of these soldiers are the same ones trapped and cut off back in September. The Ukrainian military denies it is surrounded, accusing rebels of simply trying to strengthen their position on the ground. But most Ukrainian sources agree they are totally surrounded (see http://www.kyivpost.com/content/kyiv-post-plus/debaltseve-surrounded-surprise-strike-hammers-ukrainian-military-headquarters-at-kramatorsk-video-380197.html) “Nobody will retreat,” said Col. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Information Center in a report in today’s Washington Post. This is the second time the Russians have been able to envelop a major part of the Ukrainian army in one year, it’s truly tragic. Col Lysenko’s idiotic mentality of trying to hold every piece of ground has no basis in military… Read more »
wpDiscuz