Zakarpatyi… the Hungarian minority in Ukraine between integration and secession

Participation in the relief operation for displaced people in Transcarpathia (Serhi Hodak/Getty)

The region of Transcarpathia, in the far west of Ukraine, is historically known as a stronghold of the Hungarian minority of the republic which, despite its integration into Ukrainian society, has managed to preserve its identity, culture and language. , amid fears that the Russian-Ukrainian war would lead to the growth of separatism in this culturally diverse region.
Official Ukrainian figures indicate that the population of Zakarpatty is approximately 1.25 million, spread over an area of ​​approximately 13,000 square kilometers, and has borders with Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, in addition to its neighborhood with the Ukrainian provinces of Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk.
The chief researcher of the Institute of Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Alexander Stikalin, explains that “Hungarians from Zakarpatyi were able to combine relative integration into Ukrainian society and preserve their Hungarian identity at the same time” , noting that “the region has historically been subject to the sovereignty of different countries.” Stekalin told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed: “If we look at Zakarpaty county and its ethnic composition, we see that Ukrainians constitute the overwhelming majority of 80%, but the Hungarian community is also large, at 12%, whose sons are concentrated in the southern towns of Beregovo and Chub near the border with Hungary. But there are Hungarians in the two big cities of the province, Uzhgorod and Mukachev. In this province, Hungarian is spoken by many Ukrainians, which increases its linguistic and cultural history. the diversity.”

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Regarding the historical reasons that led to the settlement of the Magyars in this region, Stekalin explains that “although the Slavs have always remained the dominant ethnic group in this region, it has been under the domination of the Hungarian kings since the beginning of the Middle Ages, and then within the Habsburg Monarchy, and the elites were of Hungarian origin. After the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire following the First World War (1914 – 1918), the territory joined Czechoslovakia and then was occupied by Hungary for a short time during World War II (1939 – 1945).After World War II, Czechoslovakia ceded it to the Soviet Union, as Ukrainians were the majority Population.
However, Stekalin points out that “Hungarians are to some extent integrated into Ukrainian society”, stating that “Hungarians are fluent in the Ukrainian language, but they have retained a strong Hungarian national identity, and they are supported in this by the Budapest There are close relations with Hungary, where many people go to work.” But it should be noted that many Ukrainians in Zakarpathia are fluent in Hungarian and have ties to Hungary, where they go for trade. or work.
Perhaps, due to its geographical distance from the southeastern regions of Ukraine, which have seen the fiercest battles between Russian and Ukrainian forces since last February 24, Zakarpaty remains a relatively calm area, and many Ukrainians went there to escape the heat of war. However, the current situation in Transcarpathia would not have passed had it not been for Kyiv’s growing fears that internal instability could lead to a growing separatist tendency in Transcarpathia, supported by Budapest known for its tacit bias towards Russia in light of personal relations. close between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin. She even went so far as to prevent Hungary from sending deadly weapons to Ukraine.


Helping displaced people in Zakarpaty, Ukraine 2 (Serhi Hodak/Getty)

Workshop underway in Zakarpaty (Serhi Hodak/Getty)

Hungarians in Transcarpathia complain of increasing their troubles after the start of the Russian invasion and of being interrogated by the security services on the background of their social media posts described as “separatists”. One of those interviewed by the Canadian newspaper, the Globe and Mail, revealed that he was held for two hours at gunpoint after transporting humanitarian aid in a car with the license plate registration appeared to be registered in Zakarpatt. In a related context, the inhabitants of one of the houses put their mobile phones in a separate room, after their conversations turned to war issues, for fear of being listened to by the security services.
When the war broke out, many men fled to Hungary, to avoid enlisting in the Ukrainian army and participating in a war they “don’t consider their own”, says Victor, a Hungarian trader . However, one of the members of the Hungarian community in Ukraine named Georgy, who also works as a trader, said that he does not support the invasion of Ukraine, saying that “it is very important that everyone everyone realizes that we are not on Putin’s side”. at the same time asking the Ukrainian authorities: “What? Have you, as a country, earned my respect?”
At the end of April last year, the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets reported that the wives of regional defense personnel who had been sent to fight in the eastern region of Donbass staged a rebellion in front of the recruitment administration building in the city of Khost in Zakarpatty.

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In light of Ukraine’s trend since 2014 towards establishing a nation-state, Hungarians, like other ethnolinguistic nationalities, notably Russian, are not immune to linguistic discrimination, having adopted in 2019 the law designating the Ukrainian as the only official state language and limiting the use of minority languages ​​for education, in schools and even in everyday life.

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