Viktor Orban demands Kyiv declare Zakarpattia region as Hungarian territory

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has issued demands for Kiev to recognize the Zakarpattia region as Hungarian territory, citing the need to protect minority rights

by Sededin Dedovic
Viktor Orban demands Kyiv declare Zakarpattia region as Hungarian territory
© Laszlo Balogh / Getty Images

Among Hungary's 11 demands regarding the protection of the rights of national minorities, the key sticking point is the determination of areas in Ukraine with a special level of guarantees for the rights of Hungarians, writes European Pravda.

This particularly concerns the westernmost Zakarpattia region of the country, where, according to the 2001 census and previous years, the share of Hungarians was over 10 percent. This provision exists in the current legislation of Ukraine: it applies to towns and villages with a "significant number" of minority representatives (starting from 15 percent) and with a "traditional" minority residence (from 10 percent in the last 100 years).

However, Budapest found this insufficient and began to demand that all settlements in Zakarpattia be automatically recognized as "traditional Hungarian" - even those where Hungarians have never historically lived. Orban's government demands the abolition of the 10 percent norm in principle, claiming that if even a small number of people traditionally live in an area, it is considered "Hungarian" territory.

Hungary also demands that Ukraine abandon the process of decision-making carried out by local councils regarding this and automatically grant the status of "historically Hungarian." The government in Budapest insists that only the 2001 census be used for this purpose, even though the number of Hungarians living in Zakarpattia has almost halved since then.

The key issue is that Orban's government explicitly calls this block decisive for the entire set of 11 demands. This is because Orban sees that the share of the Hungarian population in Zakarpattia has fallen below 10 percent.

Now Budapest sees an opportunity to use the historical moment and blackmail Ukraine to remind these people of their Hungarian origin. At the end of January, during a visit to Uzhhorod, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto handed over to the Ukrainian side a list of 11 demands guaranteeing the rights of the Hungarian national minority in Ukraine.

Olha Stefanishyna, Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration and head of the Ukrainian delegation in the negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the European Union, said that Ukraine is ready to fulfill Hungary's 11 demands regarding the rights of national minorities in Ukraine.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had a brief conversation today on the sidelines of the European Union summit in Brussels. It is not known exactly what the two leaders discussed, but their gestures suggested they were emotionally engaged in the conversation.

During the conversation, Zelensky placed his hand on Orban's shoulder, while Orban waved his hands almost throughout the entire discussion. Ukraine today signed security agreements with the European Union, as well as with Lithuania and Estonia.

Incidentally, in a few days, starting from July 1, Hungary will begin its six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, Orban has positioned himself as one of the few European allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He has consistently opposed sending weapons to Kyiv and has challenged the policy of imposing sanctions on Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban attend a signing ceremony of several agreements b© Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Orban has also leveraged NATO support for Ukraine

Orban said earlier on Hungarian state radio that Budapest opposes NATO's plan to provide more predictable military support to Ukraine in the coming years to counter Russia's invasion, while better-armed Russian troops establish control on the battlefield.

"We do not approve of it, nor do we want to participate in financial or armed support (for Ukraine), even within NATO. We need to redefine our position within that military alliance, our lawyers and officers are working on how Hungary can be a NATO member without participating in alliance actions outside its territory," Orban said.

Orban, who is considered the closest partner of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the EU, emphasized NATO's role as a defensive alliance, noting that he does not share the concerns of some other Central and Eastern European countries that the Russian military will not stop its aggression if it wins the war against Ukraine.

"NATO's strength cannot be compared to Ukraine's strength. I do not consider it logical to claim that Russia, which cannot handle Ukraine, will suddenly come and swallow the entire Western world," Orban said. Hungary refuses to provide military assistance to neighboring Ukraine, unlike most EU members, and Orban has strongly opposed the sanctions the Union has imposed on Russia, although he has always ultimately voted for them.

For the US and EU members advocating for greater support for Ukraine, Orban said they are "for war" and are preparing for a global conflict. Orban, a nationalist prime minister who has been in power since 2010, has branded his Fidesz party as a guarantor of peace in the region, but in the last elections for the European Parliament, he did not have the same support as before.

Viktor Orban