Belligerency rarely works in diplomacy: Hungary and Ukraine

The Budapest Beacon published an article today in which Ben Novák called attention to a brief address by Michele Siders, acting deputy chief of mission and director of the Office of Resource Management at the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It was a speech to welcome Lamberto Zannier, an Italian diplomat, as OSCE’s High Commissioner on National Minorities. In this speech there was one mysterious paragraph: “We support your comment regarding the need to respect confidentiality in the pursuit of quiet diplomacy. One participating State knowingly misrepresented your recent comments regarding education issues in Ukraine. We are concerned that this does not contribute to the Permanent Council’s goal of rebuilding trust. A statement from your office clarifying your findings on this issue would be helpful.”

What does Siders mean by rebuilding trust among the nations represented by OSCE? In 2016 German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier talked about the necessity of “rebuilding trust among participating States and maintaining efforts for achieving a political solution to the conflict in and around Ukraine.” In her speech Siders said that one of the member states had violated this effort.

Who is that guilty state? I’m afraid it is most likely Hungary, whose foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, apparently “knowingly misrepresented” Zannier’s comments on the contentious Article 7 of the Ukrainian law on education. Szijjártó was attending OSCE’s Mediterranean Conference in Palermo in late October where, after talking to Zannier, he informed MTI by phone that so far OSCE had been “the most helpful international organization” of those whose assistance Hungary had solicited in connection with the Ukrainian education law, which the Hungarian government finds unacceptable. The statement released by the Hungarian Foreign Ministry indicated that Zannier would soon visit Ukraine, where he would most likely represent the Hungarian point of view on the language issue. Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary for public diplomacy and relations, went even further. In his blog, About Hungary, he stated that “OSCE is throwing its support behind Hungary in relation to Ukraine’s education law.”

But articles that appear on OSCE’s website show that OSCE is taking a much more balanced approach. The High Commissioner is paying attention to concerns expressed by the national minorities, but he “has also taken note of the Ukrainian government’s assessment that the low level of state language knowledge among school graduates … impedes their effective participation in public life.” OSCE apparently “constantly recommended” the adoption of balanced views that would preserve and promote the minorities’ language and identity and, at the same time, would foster the integration of society through the teaching and learning of the state language.

Zannier is trying to mediate between the two sides, but the Hungarian government is unwilling to engage in any dialogue with Ukraine. In the meantime, the other countries involved are already close to an understanding with the Ukrainian government.

Graduation at a Hungarian high school in Ukraine

Although Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin visited Budapest at the beginning of October, the talks with Szijjártó led nowhere. Magyar Nemzet reluctantly agreed to publish an opinion piece by Klimkin in which he asked for “considered dialogue.” He especially called attention to the exodus of young Hungarians from Ukraine because their lack of knowledge of Ukrainian prevents them from entering university. Therefore, they go to study in Hungary where at first they are welcome, but these students most likely will never return to the Subcarpathian region of Ukraine, and this in the long run is not in the interest of Hungary.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian government, this time fully supported by the opposition parties, unleashed irredentist sentiments in far-right circles. Lóránt Hegedűs, a Hungarian Reformed minister, organized a demonstration in front of the Ukrainian embassy in which he demanded “the right of self-determination of the Subcarpathian region.” The region is officially called Zakarpattia Oblast, where only about 12.1% of the population is Hungarian. The Hungarian foreign ministry dutifully informed the Ukrainian Embassy about the impending demonstration, in response to which the Ukrainians asked whether “Budapest is supporting separatism” of the region. Pavlo Klimkin, in a statement of objection, expressed his hope that Hungary will honor the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

The rigid Hungarian attitude has turned even some American conservatives against Budapest. Mike Gonzalez, senior fellow at the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, called on Viktor Orbán to “stop meddling in Ukrainian politics.” Gonzalez approves of Orbán’s policies on migrant issues and praises him for his vigorous defense of his nation’s sovereignty, but “he’s at his worst … when interfering in the self-determination of other sovereign nation-states around him.” According to Gonzalez,“Orbán is stirring up trouble with Ukraine and Romania.” What’s the issue? he asks. “You can put many different names on it—minority rights, multiculturalism, diversity—but some would say it borders on ‘irredentism.’” This article originally appeared in Daily Signal, a publication that is described by the Media Bias Fact Checker as strongly biased toward conservative causes.

I very much doubt that Mike Gonzalez is familiar enough with Hungarian affairs to talk about this issue with authority, but he put his finger on something that is not very far from reality. Tamás Bauer, a sharp-eyed observer of Hungarian politics, sees dual citizenship as “a partial revision” of the peace treaties. Since there is no possibility of territorial revision, Orbán has brought about a “population revision.” I may point out here that Zsolt Semjén, deputy prime minister in charge of national issues, just announced that the number of new citizens has reached one million. That means that about half of the Hungarians living beyond Hungary’s borders have been amalgamated into the Hungarian community.

English-language government publications talk about “cross-border Hungarians,” which is interesting by itself, but the Hungarian designation is even more suggestive. A few years ago the ministry of human resources published a list of designations that must be used and others that must be avoided. Hungarians must call their compatriots not “külföldi magyarok” but “külhoni magyarok.” The former is the mirror translation of the German ausländisch. “Külhoni,” according to the dictionary, means the same thing, except it sounds a bit old-fashioned to my ears. But then why do Hungarians now have to use “külhoni” instead of “külföldi”? I suspect the reason is that “hon” is a somewhat poetic word for “homeland.” Another related word is “otthon,” which means “at home.” Thus these Hungarians don’t live abroad but in a homeland that just happens to be across borders. I know that this distinction might be too subtle and perhaps many people don’t grasp its significance, but I consider it a sign of what’s going on in the Fidesz leaders’ minds.

November 16, 2017
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The Government’s drive to get to one million “kulhoni” citizens has apparently been done in such a shoddy manner that the rest of EU and US are concerned that they can’t properly confirm the people claiming citizenship are who they claim to be. This risks Hungarians participation in U.S. visa waiver program and even Schengen. I suppose no matter to the Government. They reach a political goal; find new voters grateful to FIDESZ, even if causing real harm to actual “within the borders” Hungarians.


Poland hasn’t become part of the VWP afaik – might Hungary be thrown out of it too?
It doesn’t concern us any more – we’ve done our holidays in the USA (which were wonderful btw – from Niagara Falls and NYC to Key West and the Grand Canyon) but the younger people in Hungary?


Thanks Eva!
Absolutely spot on concerning “külhoni”!!


Another related word is honvéd / honvédség.

To use the word hon=home suggests, that these areas somehow belong to Hungary or at least to Hungarians, and that these areas in case should be protected by the army=honvéd (home protection/defending).

Of course, the hungarian government would never interfere in other countries affairs, because they know the burdon of interference too well (Brussels, Soros, Germany. …).
Pfui! They are just a bunch of hyporitical, hate inciting bunch of liars and thiefs.


Besides being precise in generating distinctions by language Fidesz would seem to be exceptional in certain areas of nationalistic political mimicry where they have learned to copy from the ‘friend’ in the East namely the dictum where Magyars now are there exists ‘Magyarorszag’.

Ukraine now has nit one but two entities that would appear to be eating at their insides. Certainly complications in its position between East and West. VO surely wants to be a player in what the spoils might be. Hungry like the wolf.


@wfree: Yes Russia and Hungary on both sides of Ukraine, using the similar words.

For me ,actually the occupation of the crimea by Putin and the war he started in East Ukraine in 2014, was an awakening for me and I see it somehow as a turning point in nearer history.

Before I thought, everything is more or less safe and military conquest in Europe is not an option.

But now, everything seems possible again in Europe:
Orbán is encouraged by Putin, Poland is encouraged by Hungary (in 2015), now we will see what will happen in Austria.

Furthermore we have Erdogans and Trumps.

I am sure, if the EU wouldn’t have let happen things in Hungary, Poland wouldn’t have been so consequetly dismantling judiciary and press freedom.

My hope lies in France and Germany and the rest of the democratic EU to strictly sanction any breaking of european rule(of law)s in the future and withdraw the EU funds, which will get stolen anyway.

Madness must be stopped now!

Winston, whatever happens in Austria or Belgium or Denmark etc. nothing will fundamentally change there. In the West even the fascists are relatively mainstream people who want to keep the “Western status quo” (social democracy, except for immigration and EU perhaps membership). In Hungary, just as in Poland or Turkey though we had revolutionary people (also like Steve Bannon who called himself a Leninist) who fundamentally want to alter society, every facet of it. They are on a mission. Kind of visionary people who – for whatever reason – despise “the West” as a conception. In Turkey it was Islam, in Poland and Hungary it’s a Christian anti-liberal, anti-Enlightenment authoritarianism which they want to introduce. Kleptocracy is part of it – it’s also hard to imagine it could happen in the West by any fascist party. The institutional system is much too strong. Of course a real economic shock could alter the calculus especially if the Russians concentrate on the new generation of leaders (like the German FDP is now fiercely pro-Russian). But I wouldn’t worry about the West, it’s strong to withstand the autocratic wave. As to Eastern member states who depend on the EU for their economic survival… Read more »

like the German FDP is now fiercely pro-Russian
Are you sure?
The only German (ex)politician for Putin is Social Democrat former chancellor Schröder – the man of many women, I always considered him an a**hole …
He’s in it maybe only for the money however, just like Fidesz.
I haven’t follwed however our coalition talks – just waiting to see how they turn out in the end. The best result would be if we get Cem Özdimir as foreign minister – yes, son of Turkish Gastarbeiter aka immigrants.

I don’t get it – everybody expects the large EU countries to do something against the new populism in the East, but then evreybody screams “meddling in the internal affairs”?

If people in Hungary and Poland want a return to the 30s -it’s their democracy that’s going to be ruined …
The EU can surely continue without them …


“Wolfgang Kubicki, 65, is the muscle behind the FDP’s revival.” (Bloomberg)


Kubicki does not represent the FDP just as Schröder does not represent the SPD – in a democratic party there will be different opinions onmany things – don’t you agree?


Let’s hope so. If but if he’s the new finance minister then especially in Germany that’s a pretty important position for the Russians to have a friend in.


Sorry Marty, I don’t understand, what you are talking about, and I never did.

Sounds to me like you appreciate those “visionary people” like Steve Bannon, don’t you?

Then I guess there must be lot of things you’re wondering about the CEE. I don’t appreciate them at all – but I think I know how they think and the voters who are behind them (because although neither Hungary and Russia or Turkey are democracies the leaders are actually quite popular – probably would be less popular in a real democracy but they are popular nonetheless). Either you face the “retrograde” thinking and value choices of such voters or you will always wonder how they got to power. The West is actually politically very weak (remember the tapped phone call of the American State department officials re Ukraine when they talked about the EU if you think it’s only my lonely opinion) – and paradoxically this weakness is one of the reasons why macho men like Orban (who really admire and respect real power as opposed to wavering, approval -seeking gentlemen) hate the West. For example these powerful Eastern men like Orban or Csanyi Sandor or Erdogan don’t work with women at all (Orban or Csanyi has not one single women in their power systems in a powerful, trusted position). They just like disciplined men (more often than not… Read more »

What’s the connection between “compromise seeking, cooperation, generosity” (which are the basis of democracy imho) and naivité?
That’s ludicrous!
These “strongmen” are only strong until they get killed by another stronger man …


Yes, but like Mugabe or dos Santos in Angola (he was recently sacked by his party) they could be in power for like 40 years.



I draw sweeping conclusions from the Crimea occupation. It’s a special case: historically Russian, securing access to an ice free sea route, populated by a majority of ethnic Russians.
The nationalist Ukrainian antics have not generated trust either; the occupation is also a message, just as the destruction of Grozni/Chechnya was at the time. Don’t forget the Russian gov has deal with the issue of millions of Russians living in the former USSR republics.


I wouldn’t draw sweeping …


A German public TV station (ZDF) reports about ultra-right ‘refugees’ in Hungary, a.o.Friberg about whom Eva wrote some months ago –
TV report (in German):


There is another similar report, that was also running on ZDF earlier in the evening that day. This is about half an hour (this one I haven’t watched yet and I cannot say if it is only longer or different also):


Thanks, yours is the full report, for who’s interested, best watch this one

Actually, this Fidesz tactic to systematically, if only partially circumvent the consequences of the Trianon/Paris peace treaties has been a very smart move cleverly executed within the framework of prevailing European norms. Ügyes volt, as they would say in Hungarian, and not just because it bought over a million additional votes for Fidesz in the Hungarian general elections. Far from it. But Fidesz is skating on very thin ice. First, they risk antagonizing neighboring countries by what those countries might, and in all probability will in fact most certainly regard as gross interference in their internal affairs. Given enough anger about this in the countries affected, this could have dire consequences for both Hungary and for ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries. For instance, the Ukrainians – and especially the majority Ruthenes in Sub-Carpathia – could easily make the life of the ethnic Hungarian minority in Sub-Carpathia a living hell, if Fidesz had managed to really rile up the Ukrainians with excessive and unreasonable demands. But the tactics of Fidesz could also trigger ultimately a mass immigration of ethnic Hungarians from the neighboring countries, and not only into Hungary proper, but also to greener pastures elsewhere in the Schengen area,… Read more »
I completely agree with the “külhoni”-“külföldi” analysis. Ethnic Hungarians in Fidesz’ discourse are not “külföldi”, they cannot be designated as “Auslander”. Out of the question. This is a message to the 1 million potential voters that they matter and they belong – this is very important for ethnic Hungarians though and they hear nothing from the opposition in this respect. Fidesz is a party of lawyers who really are careful with words in legal and communication settings. The choice of words is never a coincidence. Like for decades education in Hungary was part of “közoktatás” (public education) while now the term is “köznevelés” (public upbringing, nurturing). The new term (which at first sounds a bit strange) wants to send a message that it’s not just about “technocratic education” but something more, because – as the liberals destroyed and relativized traditional values – more is needed. Instead of the family (because many families are incapable of bringing up their kids properly, like gipsies and other disorderly, “proli” folks) the state had to do something more e.g. to inoculate kids with basic values, with basic behavioral expectations, and use methods which may not be expected in a school as traditionally understood. Of… Read more »
Jean P

The disputed law requires Ukrainian secondary school students to be taught in the Ukrainian language after grade 4 and it does not single out the Hungarian minority.

Fidesz want the Hungarians at home and abroad to stay monolingual in order to make sure that Hungarian souls don’t get poisoned by foreign ideas. They want to keep their monopoly on the poisoning. That’s their real reason for protesting against the law.

The support by the opposition parties to Fidesz’ cynical position shows the caliber of the opposition.

Alex Knisely

As witness the insistence on “dubbed” television-broadcast programmes and films… again, monolingual impoverishment.


A bit OT again but very significant:
Hungarians are’t content with their lives and are in constant fear of the unknown!
The Fidez propaganda (which is worse than in Kádár times – says my wife who experienced many years of it) seems to be working …


Too late to update …
I found the OECD report on the “Better life initiative” here:
This page has links to detailed reports for the different countries – very informative reading, much more data even than the BBJ could include in its article.
I looked at the conclusions for Hungary, germany and Sweden – very instructive. Life had become even better in Sweden and Germany – while in Hungary some things changed to the better but you also find many negative trends under the Fidesz/Orbán “regime”.
The percentage of people who vote in parliamentary elections e gis higher than 80 in Sweden, in Germany it’s just below 80 – while in Hugary it’s fallen to around 60%.
What does that tell us?
Hungarians don’t care anymore – that’s a general conclusion in the OECD-report btw!
And even more OT:
I regularly find very interesting data in BBJ and also – but there accss is limited.


I’m starting anew to have better readability.
Marty, are you comparing Hungary with Angola and Simbabwe now?
Interesting …
And also Kubicki is not the boss – his connections to Russia are watched by the others – if we get Cem Özdemir as foreign minister “we will live in interesting times”!

PS and even more OT:
Some loonie Fidesz friends on call Mrs Merkel “a communist, a liberal and a nazi” – if that’s how Fidesz sees her?

I’m sure that our German politicians know exactly what Fidesz is up to – but they don’t want to throw Hungary (and Poland) out of the EU, at least not yet – as I said:
Interesting times ahead.


The Tamás Bauer essay on the dual citizenship issue was fascinating. Whether it is in fact some type of a violation of the Antall and Horn governments’ treaties with the Ukraine and other neighboring countries is well beyond my understanding of international law. But in general I have a pretty cynical attitude towards the enforceability of many international treaties short of threats of military action or massive economic penalties. None of which are likely to happen in the situation of Hungary and its neighbors.

But one thing that Bauer missed was the draft dogging going on by younger Hungarian speaking citizens of the Ukraine who hit the border and utilize their dual nationality to avoid service. I don’t read Ukrainian, but I do read periodically the Kyiv Post in English. Over the last several months there have been articles on young Hungarians avoiding the draft by escaping to Budapest to sit and admire the Danube while Ukrainian young people die in combat. To say the least it’s not all sitting well across the border.

This article on Hungary appeared just a few days ago it gives the flavor of where relations with the Ukraine are going.


Külhoni magyar
“consider it a sign of what’s going on in the Fidesz leaders’ minds…”

I doubt they believe in any prospects of territorial or any other integration. Although I’m nor familiar with the inner circles of the regime I can’t imagine they have gone mad whatever echo chambers they may live in.
My take is much more prosaic: Orban is waving the Trianon/irredentists red cape which may be threadbare but always works with millions of frustrated suckers here.


@ Observer

I agree.
Anyone who thinks that Orban ‘believes’ has fallen for one of his con artist tricks.
Orban believes in nothing, only in the efficacy of feeding the suckers their own, wished-for, gruel. He serves it up: they eat it down.

Sic transit Nationalisme…



Not too much OT:
What worries many people in the West is the fact that other former “communist” countries more and more seem to follow Hungary and Poland:
Keno Verseck who has written many good critical articles on Hungary describes the latest happenings in the Czech Republic in the German SPIEGEL:
Who would have thought that fascism raises its ugly head again? And everything from Nazi times is included: general xenophobia, homophobia, antisemitism up to and including death threats.
And all this under the name of “Christianity”!
If I hadn’t been an atheist for almost 70 years already it would be high time for this now …

Someone already commented that it might be a good idea for the EU to just “sell” Eastern Europe (including Hungary and maybe even East Germany …) back to Putin – that would solve many problems …


Really? Sell Hungary??

What’s the value of a used fart?


Good morning Mr. Verseck,

Your are finally awake ladies and gents.
Sorry, but I would like to claim my copyrights here – I’ve been sounding this warning bell since 2011. Not that is was so difficult to see it coming.