What was behind Péter Szijjártó’s trip to Washington?

Today I am returning to foreign policy issues, specifically to U.S.-Hungarian relations and the Ukrainian question. I have written several times about the Hungarian response to the Ukrainian education act, which was so radical and intransigent that it led to vetoing a planned meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Joint Commission. Moreover, Hungary was ready to block Ukraine’s integration into NATO unless Kiev withdraws Article 7 of the education act that affects the use of minority languages.

A month later I reported that Péter Szijjártó at last had an opportunity to meet Wess Mitchell, the new Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, in Washington, D.C. Their January 16 meeting seemed quite casual; it was held in the Hungarian Embassy, not in the State Department. An official photo was taken, but there was no press conference. Given that Szijjártó said absolutely nothing about their meeting, I concluded that “it was not a success” and that “the anticipated breakthrough [in U.S.-Hungarian relations] didn’t materialize.” But today I can offer a somewhat different take on what this meeting was most likely all about.

At the beginning of December, Rex Tillerson was on a European tour. First, he visited NATO headquarters in Brussels, where he emphasized that “Russia’s aggression in Ukraine remains the biggest threat to European security.” From Brussels he flew to Vienna to join a meeting of foreign ministers. He conducted talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, during which he reiterated that the Russian treatment of Ukraine is unacceptable to the United States. Tillerson also held discussions with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin about the possible deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine.

It’s easy to extrapolate from Tillerson’s message during his meetings in Brussels and Vienna that Hungary’s threat to block Ukraine’s participation in negotiations with NATO officials would be unacceptable to the United States. Hungary’s hard-line position against Ukraine, which urgently needs assistance and support, came at a very bad time. By now I’m convinced that the Mitchell-Szijjártó talks were not so much about U.S.-Hungarian relations as about Hungary’s opposition to Ukraine’s association with NATO.

If I’m correct, Szijjártó’s silence after the meeting was understandable. During the meeting Wess Mitchell most likely offered his services as a mediator between the parties, trying to bring about a compromise solution to a relatively minor bilateral issue for the sake of important geopolitical considerations. It is not clear what Szijjártó wanted in exchange for an agreement with the Ukrainians. What we do know is that Pavlo Klimkin and Péter Szijjártó met Wess Mitchell in Paris on January 24, where Klimkin promised “real consultation with the Hungarian community in Subcarpathian Ukraine.” Szijjártó, for his part, demanded “legal guarantees” that would ensure an understanding between the Ukrainian government and the Hungarian community.

Péter Szijjártó, Wess Mitchell, and Pavlo Klimkin in Paris

Magyar Idők summarized the Hungarian government’s position after the meeting in Paris. (1) The Ukrainian government should consult with the representatives of the Hungarian community. (2) The Hungarian minority cannot be deprived of its earlier acquired rights. (3) The solution should be advantageous to the Hungarians in Ukraine. (4) To find a resolution of the conflict is in the interest of the Americans. The Hungarian position, at least as far as Szijjártó’s statements after the meeting were concerned, was still rigid. “The consultation with the Hungarians can be productive only if the Ukrainian government abrogates parts of the law that deals with minorities.”

A week later, on February 1, the Ukrainian ministry of education and science announced that the Ukrainian government accepts the recommendations of the Venice Commission and is ready to postpone the implementation of the law until 2023. Oddly enough, Education Minister Liliya Hrynevych made this announcement during her meeting with the Romanian Ambassador to Ukraine. Romania and Ukraine have been having bilateral negotiations on the minority language issue for some time. The draft protocol is ready to be signed. It seems, however, that the Ukrainians are not yet ready to sit down with the Hungarians. As a point of interest, the Venice Commission’s recommendations don’t include a suggestion to postpone the education act until 2023.

Liliya Hrynevych’s statement was interpreted in Budapest as an answer to the Hungarian demands. Media reports suggested that now that the Ukrainian government has made the first move, “the ball is in the court” of the representatives of the Hungarian community in Subcarpathian Ukraine. The official organization of that community, the Kárpátaljai Magyar Kulturális Szövetség (KMKSZ), and László Brenzovics, the only Hungarian member of the Ukrainian parliament, are somewhat hopeful. They view the announcement as a first step toward a satisfactory solution. The optimism of Brenzovics, who, by the way, accompanied Szijjártó to Paris, is based on the fact that, although Ukraine denies it, their decision to retreat from their original stance is due to “international pressure.”

Brenzovics’s statement to Válasz, a Hungarian internet site, led me to believe that he is not an easy man to negotiate with. For example, instead of concentrating on the education act as it impacts the Hungarian community, he complained about the Ukrainian government’s discrimination against the Russian language as opposed to the official languages spoken within the European Union. He demands special treatment for Hungarian because it is “not related to Ukrainian, unlike Polish or Russian.” He conveniently forgot about Romanian.

In early December Hungary asked for permanent observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to be sent to Hungarian inhabited areas of Ukraine, which was certainly an overreach. But Lamberto Zannier, high commissioner of OSCE, did meet Brenzovics in Kiev. So far, no OSCE office has opened in Uzhhorod/Ungvár and I don’t think that one will any time soon. According to the latest information, however, OSCE is involved in the negotiations between the local Hungarian community and Kiev. So, perhaps as a result of pressure on both sides from the United States and OSCE’s presence at the negotiations between Kiev and KMKSZ, some common ground may be found. Whatever it is, it won’t bear any resemblance to the original Hungarian demand of a total abrogation of the article on minority languages.

February 6, 2018
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Istvan
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The Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association (KMKSZ) and the Fidesz government seem to have won a small victory by the delay in the implementation of the education law. There are still far more important issues not being discussed like Hungarian speaking citizens of the Ukraine avoiding the Ukrainian military draft, under the draft law passed in 2017 it virtually impossible for a young Ukrainian male to work or go to high school or post secondary school without being detected. Currently the the upper limit of compulsory military draft age for male citizens is from 25 to 27 years, with recruits serving in the military for 1.5 years. Formally all male Ukrainians from age 17 to age 60 are registered for the draft. This spring somewhat over 14,000 young men will be called up. But only one out of 12 draftees show up for service, and a crisis is at hand in the Ukraine. For citizens of Ukraine military of conscription age traveling abroad must show a document issued by a military commissariat. So it has been reported in the Ukrainian media that Hungarian speaking families where possible are sending 16 year old males to Hungary to live with relations to avoid… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

Orban wanted to hide this OLAF report, but 24.hu obtained it:
The details how the company of Orban’s son-in-law defrauded the European taxpayers of 43.7 million between 2009 and 2014.

https://24.hu/belfold/2018/02/07/igy-csalt-orban-vejenek-cege-megszereztuk-az-olaf-jelenteset/

Hungary refused to join the idea of a “European prosecutor” for this reason: Hungarian chief prosecutor-for-life Polt, Orban’s and Matolcsy’s friend does never find any problems with the scams of Fidesz higher-ups after lengthy [non-]investigations.

Jean P
Guest

” Polt, … never find any problems with the scams of Fidesz higher-ups after lengthy [non-]investigations.”

Some day the “prosecutor-for-life” will be punished for criminal negligence in office. He will be the first of the gang to be handcuffed.

tappanch
Guest

For a revolution, you need lots of angry youth, men & women. There are very few young people in Hungary, moreover, a large chunk of them has emigrated in the last 8 years.

If there is no revolution, the statute of limitations will give Polt a peaceful old age. (In addition, he appointed most other prosecutors).

Jean P
Guest

A revolution is not needed. Just a child to call the bluff.
(“The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen).

Guest

This of course reminded me of Carol King (one of my favourites …) and her song:
“One small voice” – which she reissued “in honour of” Trump a year ago:
https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/jan/27/carole-king-one-small-voice-donald-trump-new-version

tappanch
Guest

The soccer stadium in place of the Népstadion will cost at least five times the outlay planned in 2011.

The Orban government wants to keep the details secret.

https://24.hu/belfold/2018/02/07/elkepeszto-modon-titkoljak-a-190-milliardbol-epulo-puskas-stadion-szerzodeseit/

wrfree
Guest

Foci, foci, foci and more foci and pipe dreams of sports dreams. And the moolah flows on and on.

Pele , one of the game’s great scorers , thought penalty kicks were a ‘cowardly way to score’. VO must be in the record books when it comes to getting them. Easy pickings into the old Felcsut onion bag. Amazing though how the country’s ‘refs’ can’t go into their pockets and whip out their cards so he can see ‘red’ and be sent off. A quick look at foci tells all on the state of the country.

Guest

OT:
Bayer Zsolt said something ugly about Göncz Árpád – and got a shitstorm on facebook for this which my wife enjoyed very much today …
She just told me that someone called Bayer a “kondom migrans” 🙂
PS:
How can any responsible woman “adore Orbán” like some who write here?
For my wife he’s the prototype of the bunko paraszt …

Another corruption story from Fidesz:

Surely you remember the “Red sludge” that destroyed Kolontar and Devecser. Many people donated money, among them Soros (!) who sent a million $ …
All in all it was several billion Forint which were donated.
None of this money went to the people who suffered, lost their houses etc!
My wife says that Orbán defended this – the money went into a park, whatever – probably half of it went into some oligarchs’ pockets, she’s really angry about this! 🙁

wrfree
Guest

That stare by Mr. Mitchell at Mr. Szijjarto suggests he could be mulling over which way Magyarorszag will go if the conflict between Putin and Ukraine escalates to much higher levels. By the way , Russia has started to deploy more missiles near Kaliningrad… it’s a ‘response to NATO buildup… ‘not to worry’. Lithuania has objected and called it a threat to Europe.

And the ‘education law’. It would appear leadership thinks its focus is to wipe out the Magyar language. Contrary to that it is an attempt to bring Ukraine in line with EU standards particularly in the area of providing bilingual education. Leadership apparently believes it is more nefarious since it involves the Ukrainian language.