Ukraine declares eight Hungarian activists “persona non grata”

Eight Orbán-paid activists have been abruptly recalled from Ukraine. They are part of the so called Petőfi Sándor Program. The Hungarian Government did not release their names.

As part of an über-nationalist lobbying program, Hungary sends paid activists to western Ukraine to improve the national identity of the Hungarian minority by teaching Hungarian language, folk music and leading dance groups. In reality, these activists collect data and scout „politically reliable” contacts for the Orbán government. They also spread Budapest’s nationalistic propaganda often peppered with anti-immigrant, racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric. The enthusiastic activists are trained and regularly debriefed(!) by the Hungarian authorities.

There is a well-founded suspicion that these young men and women perform a political mission. The Ukrainian authorities have started to take a closer look at their agenda and raise questions. Their permission to stay in Ukraine was delayed and Budapest decided to scrap the program. The missionaries have been recalled and „reassigned to other areas.”

Relations between Hungary and Ukraine are tense. Orbán is Russian President’s Putin’s ally and shares his view that Ukraine is a „made-up country.” Hungary’s media uses the old Hungarian name, Kárpátalja, for the region of Zacarpathia. In 1939 after Hitler attacked Czechoslovakia from the west, Hungary’s pro-Hitler ruler, Miklós Horthy, illegally occupied the eastern edge of the country claiming „to protect” the ethnic Hungarian population. Only 10% of Zacarpathia’s population has Hungarian roots. After WWII the Allies agreed that the area would be part of the Soviet Union and with the collapse of the Communist state in 1991 the region became part of the newly established independent Ukraine.

Far-right State Secretary Árpád János Potápi manages the Petőfi Sándor Program. He admires pro-Hitler Miklós Horthy and keeps his painting in his government office.

Budapest claims that there are 150,000 ethnic Hungarians in Kárpátalja; Ukraine puts the number closer to 100,000. Orbán gives EU passports to ethnic Hungarians and considers them as part of the „indivisible Hungarian nation body.”

Now Hungary is upset about Ukraine’s new language law whereby citizens must learn and use the official language. This is clearly a problem for many ethnic Hungarians who do not speak Ukrainian.

My own family hails from the city of Chust (Huszt) and I was surprised to learn that nobody speaks Hungarian there anymore. Some other relatives lived closer to the border in Csornotisziv (Feketeardó) and spoke „kitchen Hungarian.” Many ethnic Hungarians struggle with a different kind of language problem. In Soviet times they learned and used Russian, now they have to switch to the official Ukrainian which is a slightly different Slavic language.

The Trump administration is fully supporting Ukraine’s new Language Law and congratulated the Ukrainian Parliament in April 2019 when they approved the new Language Law and made Ukrainian the official state language.

György Lázár

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