Recently, Hungarian and Ukrainian bilungual billboards appeared in the city of Uzhhorod in Transcarpathia, which, according to their message, emphasize the common destiny of Hungarians and Ukrainians suffering from Russia ("Russia Killed Hungary, Budapest 1956” and "Russia Kills Ukraine, Ukraine 2014"). According to the scene photos, the posters seem to show part of Corvin Quarter in Budapest, with the iconic flag with a hollow of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence in the foreground, while another photo shows a towerblock destroyed during Russia's military aggression that began in February 2022.
Interestingly, just when the posters appeared in Uzhhorod, the press reported that billboards urging the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine had appeared in several Hungarian settlements. The Hungarian posters are part of a campaign commissioned by the Facebook group Nyugati Pályán, which was reportedly supported by the U.S. Embassy in Budapest.
Hungarian-Ukrainian relations – important antecedents of the Hungarian position
Provocations against Hungarians have increased in Ukraine since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, an example of which is that, according to some press reports, far-right nationalists marched in Uzhhorod and chanted "Knife tip with Hungarians!". Several school principals of Hungarian nationality were removed from their positions, teachers were fired in the Mukachevo district, and on several occasions Hungarian national symbols were removed and replaced with Ukrainian symbols. Since 2017, relations between Hungary and Ukraine have deteriorated rapidly and significantly with regard to the Ukrainian Education Law, as the new education law passed in Ukraine in 2017 makes the use of the Ukrainian language mandatory from the fifth grade in primary education. Article 7 of the law states, among other things, that Ukrainian citizens belonging to national minorities may learn exclusively in their mother tongue in kindergarten and primary school (grades 1-4).
At that time, László Brenzovics, the only member of Ukraine's Supreme Council of Hungarian nationality, said in relation to the controversial law: "There is a kind of purposeful policy which, in addition to restricting the rights of all minorities, tries to portray the Hungarian minority as an enemy in the eyes of the Ukrainian public." In fact, the situation has been very problematic ever since, because in response to the changes, Hungary's government decided to block Ukraine's EU and NATO integration efforts through diplomatic channels due to minority disputes. Tensions between the two states have gained increased importance since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 – the start of the war conflict in the East.
The attitude of the Ukrainian state towards the Hungarian minority is also puzzling in light of the fact that back in 1991 Hungary was the third country – after Poland and Canada – to recognize Ukraine as an independent state. The then President of the Republic, Árpád Göncz, was invited to the region, which was followed by a joint declaration and then a treaty in December 1991, recognizing the collective and individual rights of the members of the Hungarian minority. This document settled, among other things, the possibility of participation of ethnic Hungarians in local governments entrusted with minority affairs.
Ukraine's status as a candidate for EU membership creates an obligation to respect and protect minority rights in accordance with the Copenhagen criteria. The above-mentioned legislative processes and events have not escaped the attention of the Venice Commission or the bodies of the EU. It will be difficult for Ukraine to become a member of the EU and an honourable member of the international community if it does not become more consistent with regard to the protection of national minorities. Manifestations such as the poster campaign in question do not contribute to the peaceful resolution of numerous disputes and conflicts, but only deepen the already existing trenches between the majority Ukrainian nation, its political leadership and national minorities and their motherlands.
Undiminished humanitarian support from Hungary in the war
Hungary helps despite the violation of minority rights, but the current leaders of Ukraine and the left-liberal leadership of the United States, for example, do not take into account the efforts of Hungarians for Ukraine. Yet the reality shows that the victims in the front lines of the Russian-Ukrainian war – and the devastation of the war itself – shock the people of Hungary as well. Feeling the weight of human loss and tragedy, and taking responsibility as a neighbouring country, Hungary has taken in more than 1.3 million Ukrainian refugees in just four months since the war began, and the Hungarians tried to help the citizens of Ukraine with the largest humanitarian action in their country's history.
Condemning Russia's military aggression, 84.4 percent of the National Assembly adopted a pro-peace resolution that included Ukraine's right to self-defense, indicating the support of an overwhelming majority of Hungary for Ukraine's territorial integrity. In the Parliament, the national advocate of the Ukrainian minority thanked the Hungarian government for creating the opportunity of starting Ukrainian-language schools, and on behalf of the Ukrainian refugees, expressed her gratitude to the Hungarians for their hospitality.
Assistance to Ukraine has continued since the outbreak of the war: Hungary provides oil and diesel, the Hungarian government provides money for the reconstruction of public institutions – as it did, for example, by contributing to the construction of a hospital and post office in Bucha – while the government sponsored the construction of a mothers' home in Beregszász, refugee shelters throughout Transcarpathia, and a kindergarten in the village of Zahalci. Hungary shows respect and helps the Ukrainians despite the fact that the Hungarian minorities are subject to numerous violation of rights in Transcarpathia.
Public opinion polls conducted by Századvég show that there is an overwhelming majority of the Hungarian population who want a ceasefire in support of the policies of the Hungarian government. A February survey by Századvég shows that 91 percent of the Hungarian population agrees with the statement that the war should end immediately and bring the parties to the negotiating table.
In fact, the conflict between Hungarians and Ukrainians stems – in part – from the difference in the concepts that lead to peace: The Ukrainians would ensure an end to the war and the achievement of peace by more arms shipments, while Hungary sees an immediate ceasefire as an end to the fighting. Views diverge on arms transfers across Europe. Within the framework of the Project Europe 2022, Századvég highlighted that the joint arms purchase by the European Union for Ukraine is rather opposed in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Austria, but it would rather be supported in countries such as the Netherlands and Portugal. What is certain is that encouraging participation in the war is not in the interest of any European country, no matter how the aforementioned Ukrainian posters try to create the appearance of a real or imagined common destiny.
Századvég Reality Check
In the research of the Századvég Foundation, a new product will be introduced called Századvég Reality Check, in addition to the range of strategic or tactical analyses known so far. In the course of its multifaceted work, Századvég, as a dominant think tank in Hungary, has always strived to combine analysis, research and direct information transfer, the interpretation of facts and data, through its professional activities, which attract the attention and interest of a wide public audience.
Reality Check (actually confronting reality) is nothing more than a second opinion given about the state of a current (e.g., social, economic) situation. So, when we say that something is a reality-check for a specific target group, the goal here is actually to make them aware of the truth about a particular situation. Reality Check is similar to fact-check, but less formal.
In the field of public awareness, it can be considered an important aspect of development that a citizen, a voter who is open to the issues of politics and the economy, can distinguish between reality and fiction when forming his or her own thoughts and opinions. Errors in thinking, as well as inadequate information (incomplete or poor knowledge of facts, data, trends), can influence civic and voter behaviour and thus lead to unsound decisions in many areas of life. The "reality test" of Századvég highlights the importance of interpreting or possibly "correcting", i.e., checking, facts, data, and trends that play a significant role in public and social reality, which can be learned mainly from news.