Hungary is on the warpath against Ukraine’s education law

Budapest is witnessing a new diplomatic upheaval because, at the urging of an outraged journalist of right-of-center political persuasion, the whole democratic opposition stood as one person to protest the newly enacted Ukrainian law on education. The Hungarian ministry of foreign affairs and trade didn’t seem to be that concerned with the law until it became evident that the democratic opposition was making hay out of it since it places restrictions on the use of minority languages in Ukraine.

The importance of the language issue in Ukraine shouldn’t be underestimated, given the size of the Russian minority. According to the World Population Review, only 77.8% of the total population of 45 million are Ukrainian, while 17% are Russian. In addition, there are some Hungarians, Poles, and Romanians, each with 0.3% of the population. The Hungarian population lives in the Zakarpattia Oblast, where there were 150,000 Hungarians in 2001. Since then, their number has most likely been reduced by emigration to Western Europe and, to some extent, to Hungary.

In 2012, during the administration of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych, a new law on education was adopted which allowed minority groups to use their languages in schools in regions where they represented more than 10 percent of the population. While some people might have considered that law a liberal move that followed European principles by protecting the rights of minorities, others saw it as an appeasement policy toward Moscow. Protectors of the Ukrainian language called the new law a “time bomb against the Ukrainian language.”

The Hungarian regions of Ukraine can certainly attest to the truth of this prediction. During Soviet times, Russian was a compulsory language, and all Hungarians learned it more or less well. Nowadays, according to the vice president of Kárpátaljai Magyar Pedagógus Szövetség/KMPSZ (Hungarian Teachers’ Association of Sub-Carpathia), 90% of 20- to 30-year-olds don’t know Ukrainian, including the teachers. Last year Átlátszó Oktatás conducted an interview with the principal of a Hungarian high school, according to whom out of the graduating class of 49 maybe two can carry on a conversation in Ukrainian. So, when Ukrainian politicians talk about the handicap Hungarian students face when trying to make a career in a country whose official language is Ukrainian, they are stating the obvious.

Given the Orbán government’s keen interest in keeping the Hungarian communities in neighboring countries intact, it would be in Hungary’s interest to make sure that Hungarians learn Ukrainian and make their mark in their country of birth. But the Hungarian government, prompted by the opposition’s united attack on the Ukrainian education law, began its own diplomatic crusade, Szijjártó style. Although Russia also lambasted Kiev over the new education law, the angriest comments came from Budapest. According to the Hungarian foreign minister, Ukraine “stabbed Hungary in the back.” He promised to turn to the much maligned European Union and the United Nations to complain. Hungary considers the law “shameful and outrageous … which drastically restricts the access of minorities … to native language teaching in a manner that makes it practically impossible from the age of 10 and is incompatible with European values and regulations.” He also claimed that the law is unlawful even by the constitution of Ukraine.

In the Hungarian media the law is portrayed as forbidding educational institutions whose students are over the age of ten from using any language in the classroom other than Ukrainian. The law is somewhat vague, so, as Hungarian educators in Sub-Carpathia stress, a lot will depend on the implementation. The law as it reads now states that the language of instruction in the first four grades may be in a minority language. But starting in grade five, only two or more subjects can be taught in any of the languages of the European Union. This distinction excludes Russian but includes Hungarian, Polish, and Romanian. At the moment there are two colleges in Ukraine in which the language of instruction is either completely Hungarian or partially so. One is the Ferenc Rákóczi II Sub-Carpathian Hungarian College in Berehove/Beregszász and the other is the Hungarian section of the Uzhhorod National University. The former is entirely financed by the Hungarian government; the latter, partially so. Their fate is not at all clear.

Ferenc Rákóczi II Subcarpathian Hungarian College in Berehove/Beregszász

While the language issue is controversial, many aspects of the new education law are forward looking and, if properly implemented, would be better than the current Hungarian one. The U.S. Embassy in Kiev welcomed the new law, which sets funding for education at a minimum of 7 percent of the GDP. It also introduces 12-year compulsory education. Schools and teachers will have a great deal of autonomy as far as the curriculum is concerned. According to Ildikó Orosz, president of KMPSZ, it is too early to pass judgment on the law, which is still not known in its entirety. Since the law is primarily an answer to the Russian annexation of Crimea and Russian military interference in the Donbas region, there is a good possibility that in the Sub-Carpathian region implementation of the law will be a great deal less stringent than in the Russian-speaking eastern regions. This is especially likely because of Ukraine’s desire to eventually join the European Union.

Moderate voices suggest a different approach: negotiations to make sure that the law will satisfy both the Ukrainians and the Hungarian minority.  Szijjártó didn’t waste time. The Ukrainians noted that Hungary had already sent letters “to the OSCE secretary-general, the OSCE high commissioner on national minorities and the OSCE chairman-in-office as well as to the UN high commissioner for human rights and the EU commissioner for enlargement and European neighborhood policy.” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin stressed that members of national minorities should learn Ukrainian, but this argument “didn’t satisfy the Hungarian side.” Szijjártó “considered these explanations to be cynical and unjust.” The Hungarian government’s frantic rush for redress to these much despised international organizations and the European Union is especially amusing. Their reaction might not be as sympathetic as Péter Szijjártó hopes, especially if the law is not as onerous as it is being characterized.

September 12, 2017
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Enrico
Guest

I don’t understand an important detail: are Hungarian students taught Ukrainian as a second or third language at Hungarian-speaking schools? If so, how long? Isn’t it their fault if they don’t master the language well enough? Living in Ukraine, don’t they suspect that Ukrainian might be needed and that studying it might be useful? Can they stick to Hungarian in their Hungarian-speaking region? Do they have access to Ukrainian tv channels, radio stations, newspapers, library books, etc.? Because if you have been studying a foreign language for at least 5 or 6 years and you cannot even have a conversation in it (be it English, Ukrainian, Hungarian or Thai), the blame is totally on you, not on the school system.

LwiiH
Guest

I don’t know but it seems obvious to me that in the Ukraine, Ukrainian should be the primary teaching language with the second language taught at most on an equal footing. How else can people participate in civics when they can’t communicate. And what parent would want to disadvantage their child by isolating them into a language ghetto. And the hypocrisy of governments saying we can tell other countries what they can and can’t do but they can’t interfere in our sovereignty.

Guest

It’s funny again- the Fidesz government trying to get at everybody, all neighbouring states (remember they’re against Romania’s and Croatia’s joining the OECD even!), calling the EU etc names – and now they start whining …

In addition to Enrico’s question:
Are the differences between the Ukrainian and the Russian languages so large that those Hungarian speakers who learned Russian can’t learn Ukrainian easily?

PS and a bit OT again:.
I’ve probably already told the story of our friends from Romania who came to Germany after 1989 – he’s a Schwab and she’s Hungarian but of course they both speak Romanian too.
After arriving in Germany she of course had to learn German quickly, got courses paid by the government of course and managed very well (and fast) – but when they have a difficult topic to discuss they both switch back to using Romanian …

So I can’t really understand the idea of someone growing up as part of a (really small!) minority in a country and not learning the language of the majority – sounds like a return to the 18/19th Century where you had these isolated pockets of minorities in hard to reach villages …

Ferenc
Guest

“Ukrainians noted” link should be https://www.ukrinform.net/rubric-society/2303434-hungary-complains-to-osce-un-eu-due-to-ukrainian-law-on-education.html (in post is .htm).

Here is best explained the situation with the language law (note from a Ukrainian point of view).
The Hungarian reactions to this law I judge as follows:
-whole democratic opposition in election mode and want to avoid as much as possible for FID ‘to ride the Hungarian horse alone’, and stemming from pre-election meetings behind closed doors
-government (aka.FID) riding it’s HU horse (as typical populists) and simultaneously helping Russian interests (!why?!)
All in all for Hungary this looks like the typical ‘storm in a teacup’.
PS: as Hungary is (mis?)using the EU in this case, best, instead of going solo, they first talk with other EU countries affected: Romania (0.3%, but note also 0.5% Romanian speaking Moldavians), Bulgaria (0.4%), Poland (0.3%), Greece (0.2%) and Germany (0.1%) – % is of ethnic group in Ukraine; ethnic Hungarians are 0.3%
Data source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Ukraine

bimbi
Guest

It is strange that obvious truths are unable to be perceived by Hungary’s bristling Foreign Minister, Mr. Five-a-Side Szijjártό. He is strong in his conviction that there should be no pollution of Magyar culture by immigrants who are unable to speak or understand our proud language, yet he fails to acknowledge that those Hungarian speakers in the Ukraine who fail to speak and function in Ukrainian are at great disadvantage with respect to employment in their own country. The Hungarian government apparently continues to fund Hungarian-only teaching institutions in the Ukraine with Hungarian tax payer money, but WHY? The answer is, one suspects, the necessity of maintaining the image of Magyar victim-hood vis-a-vis the surrounding countries and the still-not-lost dreams of Trianon’s abrogation. Consultation, compromise and conciliation? Not for the galloping Magyar Nation! Back to Horthydom, back to the days when the Hungarian petty nobility made colonies of the surrounding lands and ruled there as an elite of foreign aristocrats! Pathetic.

Heaven help us if this is Orbán’s view of post-EU Europe!

Istvan
Guest
The so called Hungarian democratic opposition showed their inherent opportunism in how they played up to Magyar chauvinism over this law, even though they attempted to nuance their position. I watched a full press conference by LMP on the new law calling for broad unity amongst Hungarians in opposition to the law. The press conference I saw lacked substance and was an embarrassment for LMP. (See this report on the PR conference http://lehetmas.hu/hirek/238337/magyar-partok-egyutt-alljanak-ki-karpataljai-magyarokert/ ) LMP never explained that Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada adopted its new education law on September 5th which stipulates that, starting in 2018, national minority language classes will be held only in elementary school. Education in secondary school and higher education will be held exclusively in the Ukrainian language. There was no prohibition of the teaching of advanced Hungarian within the Ukraine through private mechanisms for high school students and as Eva noted several Hungarian language higher educational institutions remain in place funded by Hungary. The debate on the proposed law existed within Ukrainian society prior to that and there was no great concern in the Hungarian democratic opposition during that period of time. Or at least that concern did not appear in the media until the Russians… Read more »
bimbi
Guest

Off-Topic but…

In the first week of September there was a well-attended meeting of the Freemasons held at the once Festetics Castle at Dég which has the reputation of a long and important Freemason history in Hungary. The attendees seemed all dressed for a parody – jet-black suits and dazzling white shirts and each carrying a black brief-case, presumably bearing their masonic symbols. They seemed well-off and young to middle-aged and one could not help wondering of the existence of a mutual and self-help connection between the members of the organization and the current ruling party.

My question is whether anyone knows of the current status of the organization in Hungary and what it is up to these days? ‘Twas not always thus as the memorial in the Vérmezö next to the South Station in Buda bears mute testimony.

wrfree
Guest

With Mr. Szijjarto clutching his red-stained back and Moscow according to the NYT seeing the education law as designed to ‘forcefully establish a mono-ethnic language regime in a multi-national state, we can see how they ‘doth protest too much’ when it comes to perceiving actions of sovereign states.

Ukraine’s education law won’t wipe out minority languages but indeed some if its goals is to make sure ‘Ukrainian’ gets its due in ‘Ukraine’, that politics is out of the classroom and teaching is a ‘secular’ activity. Surely not some things enamored by the barking dog tag-team of Magyarorszag and Russia.

And clearly when it comes to ‘second languages’ in teaching that ‘bastard tongue’ which is English could make some inroads in the country. Great for a Ukraine which looks to the West. And getting to the craw of those in the East as well as those who slowly and surely more and more swing on toward the East in thoughts and action.

Zoli
Guest

Eva is in favor of Ukraine’s nationalist, asimilationist policies, which will also affect the Hungarian minority living there. No surprise there, since she once told me that there was nothing wrong with Romania’s policies of homogenization in Transylvania, which included bringing in about 1 million colonists into the region. She is a true “Hungarian”. With Hungarians like her, it would not take long for us to disappear as a distinct ethno-cultural entity. Good thing that most Hungarians reject her kind!

Andrew James
Guest

I’m still struggling to understand what the change in the law is. Is Hungarian being replaced, at least partly, as the main medium of instruction? Or is it simply that Ukrainian has to be taught as a second language, from Year 5, in place of one or both of the European Foreign Languages? And/ Or, does Ukrainian become a medium of instruction in year 5, i.e. as in a dual language system? There is a world of difference between teaching a language as a ‘subject’ and using it as a ‘medium’ of a more general education.

Istvan
Guest
I do not read Ukrainian, but what I have read relating to the law it’s clear that there is gong to be a significant change. Historically, Romanian and Hungarian communities in Ukraine had the opportunity to study and get secondary education in their native languages at all grade levels. Now Ukraine is moving toward providing full secondary education in the official national language. The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages does not require that minority languages be taught at every grade level and in all subjects. Part of the problem here is that Hungary opened the full door to Hungarian citizenship for all Transcarpathian Hungarians. This has created what can only be called a backlash in Ukraine, which sees itself under assult as I described above. Not all of these Ukrainian nationalists are fascists by the way either, some are pro-EU democrats. To get a Hungarian passport, an ethnic Hungarian or who is a citizen of Ukraine is required to implement basically the following easy terms: —to confirm that he is a Hungarian by nationality or submit documents providing that his family previously lived in the territory that was part of the Austro –Hungarian Empire. The most common method… Read more »
The reality
Guest

István, you are wrong. Austria and Hungary had no common citizenship between 1867-1918. So the citizenship aspirants must prove that they were born in the territory of Kingdom of Hungary, and they must speak Hungarian in some degree.

Observer
Guest

Whatever the details of the law, if 90% of ethnic Hs don’t know well Ukrainian their only way to prosper is to move over to H, this way rapidly decreasing the minority numbers and ensuring poor living for those remaining.
The Orbán policies have greatly contributed to the reduction of the H minority numbers, for good or bad.

petofi
Guest

It’s to laugh: the Hungarian ‘opposition’ is as dumb as mud. ‘To act as one’ with Fidesz serves just to re-establish the notion of ‘nothing without Fidesz leadership’.

What suckers!

The wiley gypsy runs circles around these guys before breakfast…

HAJRA MAGYAROK!

petofi
Guest

Anyway, Hungary attacking the Ukraine is what a Russian proxy state does, no?

wrfree
Guest

Re: ‘Russian proxy states’

A bit OT but fitting …it stands to reason there are
certain advantages to those states where they can all revel in perhaps getting all that booty from the West. Koszonom szepen Equifax who opened the credit coffers here to everybody in the world. Something criminal there. The East and its proxies surely will be seeing booming times! The money transfers will be outta sight. What a Western treasure trove for the pirates waiting patiently in the wings.

The reality
Guest

Wrong. The minority rights and education were important for every government in Hungary, regardless they were leftist or rightist.

Guest

Are you talking about Horthy and his “Jew laws”?

Or about Magyarisation before 1914?

The reality
Guest
In July 1849, the Hungarian Revolutionary Parliament proclaimed and enacted the first laws on ethnic and minority rights in the world. It gave minorities the freedom to use their mothertongue at local administration, at tribunals, in schools, in community life and even within the national guard of non-Magyar councils. However these laws were overturned after the united Russian and Austrian armies crushed the Hungarian Revolution. After the Kingdom of Hungary reached the Compromise with the Habsburg Dynasty in 1867, one of the first acts of its restored Parliament was to pass a Law on Nationalities (Act Number XLIV of1868). The situation of minorities in Hungary were muchmore better than in contemporary pre WW1 Europe. Other highlymultiethnic /multinational countries were: France Russia and UK. See the multi-national UK: The situation of Scottish Irish Welsh people in “Britain” during the English hegemony is well known. They utmost forgot their original language,only English language cultural educational institutions existed. The only language was English in judiciary procedures and in offices and public administrations. It was not a real “United” Kingdom,it was rather a greater England. See the multiethnic France: In 1870, France was a similar-degree multi-ethnic state as Hungary, only 50% of the population… Read more »
The reality
Guest

Carpathian Ruthenia became “ukrainian” when the Soviet union occupied the it. Historically there weren’t any ukrainian there. Rusyns, Hungarians Slovaks didn’t want that, but it was Stalin’s decision…..

Paul
Guest
Leaving aside the legitimacy of this law, or its impact on minorities (of which I don’t know enough to comment), I am greatly puzzled by the assertion that Hungarians living in Ukraine can’t speak Ukrainian. This not only seems illogical/unlikely to me, but It directly disagrees with my own experience. My wife’s family comes from Ungvár, with many of them still living there, and all of them speak Ukrainian fluently enough to live their daily lives – how else would they survive in an overwhelmingly Ukrainian-only speaking society? Their first language may be Hungarian at home, and even at school, but there’s absolutely no way they could live their daily lives without having a functional level of Ukrainian. In modern Ungvár you very rarely hear Hungarian spoken and hardly ever see signs in Hungarian (the only one I can think of is a single road sign just after you leave the border!), and, outside of schools, there are few, if any, Hungarian civic institutions left. A non-Ukrainian speaker simply wouldn’t be able to function. Just to make the point, imagine yourself resident in a foreign country where hardly anyone speaks your language – you may be able to shop in… Read more »
Tyrker
Guest

Hungary is certainly not alone. The foreign ministers of Greece, Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria have signed a joint letter expressing concern over the new (Ukrainian) Education Act.
https://www.agerpres.ro/english/2017/09/14/romanian-bulgarian-greek-hungarian-foreign-ministers-sign-joint-letter-on-ukraine-s-education-law-17-52-25

Guest
Tyrker
Guest

Because it has nothing to do with the topic of this discussion, wolfi. The article you’ve linked to says nothing about the Ukrainian law.

Tyrker
Guest

The excellent journalist (and Origo’s former editor-in-chief) Albert Gazda – who was born and raised in Subcarpathia – has written a remarkable piece on this topic: https://mno.hu/gkozep/az-ukran-nyelv-szepsegei-2417518

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