The Hungarian American Coalition is honoring Orbán’s lobbyist in Ukraine, Ildikó Orosz

The Hungarian American Coalition will host its 14th annual Gala Dinner on April 25, 2018 in Washington, D.C. The Coalition will be honoring Dr. Ildikó Orosz, leader of the Ferenc Rákóczi II. Transcarpathian Hungarian Institute located in Beregovo (Beregszász in Hungarian), Ukraine. According to the announcement Dr. Orosz is the “organizer of the Institute, community leader, public figure and politician…” (Read the Coalition’s announcement here.)

Dr. Ildikó Orosz is reporting from one of her lobbying tours in Brussels on Hungarian TV.

Beregovo is in Zakarpattia, the western province of Ukraine. It has 1.2 million people among them 150,000 ethnic Hungarians, although Ukraine claims a smaller number, about 100,000. Almost a hundred years ago the area was part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and for a period between 1938 and 1945 it was occupied by pro-Hitler Hungarian ruler Miklós Horthy.

Recently the relations between Hungary and Ukraine have hit a new low. Ukraine has announced plans to deploy up to 1,000 troops near the Hungarian border. Yes, troops at the Hungarian border. “Ukraine’s explanation that the deployment is necessary to counter a threat to its territorial integrity means that they (members of the Ukrainian national government) consider Hungarians – the ethnic majority in this particular area (of Ukraine) – as a threat,” said Hungary’s foreign minister Péter Szijjártó.

Ukraine has a lot to worry about. Russia has annexed Crimea and Putin-supported separatists have taken over the eastern edge of the country. Now a small group of ethnic Hungarians financed by Hungary, among them Ildikó Orosz, are causing trouble in Western Ukraine. Ukraine says that Mr. Orbán has bankrolled self-proclaimed “politicians” to destabilize the region. The Hungarian action supports Mr. Putin’s agenda.

Dr. Ildikó Orosz with Viktor Orbán – visiting Beregovo (Beregszász in Hungarian).

The dispute between the Hungarian Government and Ukraine started with the Language Law. Ukraine’s Parliament passed legislation that promotes the use of Ukrainian language for all students. The move is controversial since the country has a multilingual population with millions of Russian speakers and smaller groups of Poles, Hungarians, Romanians, Gagauz etc. The Polish, Romanian and other minorities outnumber the Hungarians and have already negotiated with Kiev to receive concessions and mutually acceptable solutions. (Read more here.)

Not so with the Hungarians. The Orbán government and their local lobbyists want a legally-binding guarantee from the Ukrainian government that it will cancel the controversial education law and table any similar future initiatives until at least 2023.

Since Ukraine won’t cancel the law Hungary has decided to retaliate and block Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration efforts. (Ukraine is trying to build closer ties with the EU and NATO with US help.) The gloves are off and the conflict is not about language anymore, it is Orbán showing loyalty to Russian strongman Putin who also opposes Ukrainian EU and NATO integration. The Putin-Orbán tag-team is hammering Ukraine from east to west.

Russia loves Orbán’s moves. Presidential Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov quoted Hungarian criticism to justify the Russian claim that the education law is “ill-conceived.” Pro-Putin Russian media is also enthusiastic; Hungary’s block of Ukraine’s EU and NATO ambitions is a proof of Ukraine’s failed foreign policy. On the other side Hungary’s positions were condemned by Germany’s ambassador to Ukraine; thirty-seven Lithuanian members of parliament called the Hungarian behavior “unacceptable” and eleven NATO member countries criticized Hungary’s move. (Romania’s view of the dispute, read here.)

Ildikó Orosz is part of Orbán’s lobbying efforts. She spends little time teaching at her institute; instead she gives interviews, speeches and spends time in Brussels lobbying against Ukraine. I was surprised to learn that a Hungarian American Coalition delegation, Andrea Lauer-Rice and Zsolt Szekeres have travelled to Ukraine to consult with Mr. Orbán’s allies. They did not meet with Ukrainian officials. (Read about the visit in Hungarian.)

Mr. Zsolt Szekeres (left), Ms. Andrea Lauer-Rice, Dr. Ildikó Orosz and Mr. László Brezovics (right) on a meeting in Ukraine.

The US wants a negotiated solution in the Ukrainian language row; that is also the interest of the Hungarian minority in the region. Instead of attacks Ms. Orosz should focus on negotiations. Distasteful personal intimidation of Ukrainian and US (!) politicians won’t solve the problem and blocking Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration efforts serves only Putin’s interest in the region. (The Orbán government attacked US Ambassador to Ukraine – read here.)

Honoring Ildikó Orosz and her institute in the United States is misguided and to be honest, somewhat shocking. It raises serious questions about the Coalition. Who do they represent? Who finances them? In 2015, Hungary’s anti-corruption portal reported that the Coalition has received $ 905,000 Hungarian tax-payers funds. The Coalition does not disclose its finances and has some explaining to do. (Read about the Coalition’s funding here in Hungarian.)

György Lázár

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